Multi-Agency Study On Mining Impact On Lake Powell

November 28, 2018

 

Utah and U.S. government officials are launching a multi-agency task force this month to extract long-core samples from multiple locations along the deltas that enter Lake Powell to assess metal concentrations. Officials are collecting both historical and recent data to determine how mining affects the lake and its inhabitants.

 

The project is a collaboration between the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

 

Researchers will be testing levels of arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury, lead, selenium, and zinc. Scientists are concerned that the release of metals previously “locked” in sediments could impact or threaten water quality, human health, and aquatic life, especially during low lake levels associated with drought. The information gathered will provide researchers with critical information on the volume of sediment and distribution of metals within the sediment throughout the lake.

 

The overall results from the study are expected to provide information that will aid resource managers make better informed decisions about lake and watershed management and water quality.

 

 

The project is expected to last one month, and researches hope the core samples will reveal how flash floods, historic mining in the Upper Animas River, other mining activities, and spring runoff affected timing, mass, and concentration of metals deposited into the lake's sediments over time.

 

“This study will help us understand whether human activities such as mining in the San Juan River watershed have impacted or pose a risk to the important recreational, aquatic life, and cultural resources of the San Juan River and Lake Powell,” said Erica Gaddis, director of the Division of Water Quality. “This project is a great example of applying science to inform water resources management.”

 

“This is the first study to collect and characterize sediment through the full thickness of the San Juan and Colorado River deltas,” said USGS scientist Scott Hynek. “Drilling long cores of sediment will allow USGS scientists to analyze metal concentrations from before the Glen Canyon Dam was constructed through the present day.”

 

Preliminary findings from the research are expected in early 2020.

 

 

 

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