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Water Resources of Colorado

Relations of Benthic Macroinvertebrates to Concentrations of Trace Elements in Water, Streambed Sediments, and Transplanted Bryophytes and Stream Habitat Conditions in Nonmining and Mining Areas of the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado, 199598

by Scott V. Mize and Jeffrey R. Deacon

Available from the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Information Services, Box 25286, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 02-4139, 54 p., 12 figs.

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Abstract

Intensive mining activity and highly mineralized rock formations have had significant impacts on surface-water and streambed-sediment quality and aquatic life within the upper reaches of the Uncompahgre River in western Colorado. A synoptic study by the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program was completed in the upper Uncompahgre River Basin in 1998 to better understand the relations of trace elements (with emphasis on aluminum, arsenic, copper, iron, lead, and zinc concentrations) in water, streambed sediment, and aquatic life. Water-chemistry, streambed-sediment, and benthic macroinvertebrate samples were collected during low-flow conditions between October 1995 and July 1998 at five sites on the upper Uncompahgre River, all downstream from historical mining, and at three sites in drainage basins of the Upper Colorado River where mining has not occurred. Aquatic bryophytes were transplanted to all sites for 15 days of exposure to the water column during which time field parameters were measured and chemical water-quality and benthic macroinvertebrate samples were collected. Stream habitat characteristics also were documented at each site.

Certain attributes of surface-water chemistry among streams were significantly different. Concentrations of total aluminum, copper, iron, lead, and zinc in the water column and concentrations of dissolved aluminum, copper, and zinc were significantly different between nonmining and mining sites. Some sites associated with mining exceeded Colorado acute aquatic-life standards for aluminum, copper, and zinc and exceeded Colorado chronic aquatic-life standards for aluminum, copper, iron, lead, and zinc. Concentrations of copper, lead, and zinc in streambed sediments were significantly different between nonmining and mining sites. Generally, concentrations of arsenic, copper, lead, and zinc in streambed sediments at mining sites exceeded the Canadian Sediment Quality Guidelines probable effect level (PEL), except at two mining sites where concentrations of copper and zinc were below the PEL. Concentrations of arsenic, copper, iron, and lead in transplanted bryophytes were significantly different between nonmining and mining sites. Bioconcentration factors calculated for 15-day exposure using one-half of the minimum reporting level were significantly different between nonmining and mining sites. In general, concentrations of trace elements in streambed sediment and transplanted bryophytes were more closely correlated than were the concentrations of trace elements in the water column with streambed sediments or concentrations in the water column with transplanted bryophytes.

Stream habitat was rated as optimal to suboptimal using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for all sites in the study area. Generally, stream habitat conditions were similar at nonmining compared to mining sites and were suitable for diverse macroinvertebrate communities. All study sites had optimal instream habitat except two mining sites with suboptimal instream habitat because of disturbances in stream habitat.

The benthic macroinvertebrate community composition at nonmining sites and mining sites differed. Mining sites had significantly lower total abundance of macroinvertebrates, fewer numbers of taxa, and lower dominance of Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Plecoptera (stoneflies), and Trichoptera (caddisflies), and a larger percentage of tolerant species than did nonmining sites. The predominance of Baetis sp. (mayflies), Hydropsychidae (caddisflies), and large percentage of Orthocladiinae chironomids (midges) at mining sites indicated that these species may be tolerant to elevated trace-element concentrations. The absence of Heptageniidae (mayflies), Chloroperlidae (stoneflies), and Rhyacophila sp. (caddisflies) at mining sites indicated that these species may be sensitive to elevated trace-element concentrations.

Comparison of field parameters and chemical water-quality characteristics to biological conditions was conducted using a water quality score (WQS) and a biological condition score (BCS). In general, as the WQS increased, the BCS also increased. Nonmining sites had higher WQS's and BCS's than mining sites. The BCS categorized the nonmining sites as nonimpaired, and the mining sites were categorized as slightly to severely impaired. Other important factors in this study that influenced surface-water quality include stream pH, chemical solubility of trace elements, stream temperature, stream elevation, organic inputs into the stream, basin geology, and stream habitat at a site. Although high concentrations of some trace elements may occur naturally, trace-element concentrations at mining sites were much higher. High trace-element concentrations appear to affect the macroinvertebrate communities more than the other factors at these sites. Mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly abundance and the percentage of midge species are good indicators of mining effects at sites in the study area.


Table of Contents

Foreword

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Previous Work

Description of Study Area

Geology

Climate

Land Use/Land Cover

Acknowledgments

Data Collection and Analysis

Site Selection

Sample Collection

Data Analysis

Quality-Assessment Procedures

Water-Column Samples and Physical Water-Quality Parameters

Concentrations and Distribution of Selected Trace Elements

Water Column

Streambed Sediment

Transplanted Bryophytes

Relation among Selected Trace Elements in the Water Column, Streambed Sediment, and   Transplanted Bryophytes

Stream Habitat Characteristics

Benthic Macroinvertebrate Community Structure

Ephemeroptera (mayflies)

Plecoptera (stoneflies)

Trichoptera (caddisflies)

Chironomidae (midges)

Natural and Human-Related Factors

Comparison of Water Quality to Biological Conditions

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Appendixes

Appendix A: Surface-water-quality field measurement constituents and minimum reporting levels for samples collected from selected sites in the study area

Appendix B: Streambed-sediment constituents and minimum reporting levels for samples collected from selected sites in the study area

Appendix C: Transplanted bryophyte constituents and minimum reported levels for samples collected from selected sites in the study area

Appendix D: Selected water-column data for samples collected from nonmining and mining sites in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado, 199798

Appendix E: Streambed-sediment data for samples collected from nonmining and mining sites in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado, 199596

Appendix F: Transplanted bryophyte data from samples collected from nonmining and mining sites in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado, 199798

Appendix G: Taxa, densities, total number of macroinvertebrates, and sampling date for samples collected from nonmining and mining sites in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado, 199798


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