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Scientific Investigations Report 2004–5245

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Questa Baseline and Premining Ground-Water Quality Investigaion 10.

Geologic Influences on Ground and Surface Waters in the Red River Watershed, New Mexico

By Steve Ludington, Geoff Plumlee, Jonathan Caine, Dana Bove, JoAnn Holloway, and Eric Livo

Prepared in cooperation with the New Mexico Environment Department
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SIR 5245
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This report is one in a series that presents results of an interdisciplinary U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study of ground-water quality in the lower Red River watershed prior to open-pit and underground molybdenite mining at Molycorp’s Questa mine. The stretch of the Red River watershed that extends from just upstream of the town of Red River, N. Mex., to just above the town of Questa includes several mineralized areas in addition to the one mined by Molycorp. Natural erosion and weathering of pyrite-rich rocks in the mineralized areas has created a series of erosional scars along this stretch of the Red River that contribute acidic waters, as well as mineralized alluvial material and sediments, to the river. The overall goal of the USGS study is to infer the premining ground-water quality at the Molycorp mine site. An integrated geologic, hydrologic, and geochemical model for ground water in the mineralized—but unmined—Straight Creek drainage (a tributary of the Red River) is being used as an analog for the geologic, geochemical, and hydrologic conditions that influenced ground-water quality and quantity in the Red River drainage prior to mining.

This report provides an overall geologic framework for the Red River watershed between Red River and Questa, in northern New Mexico, and summarizes key geologic, mineralogic, structural and other characteristics of various mineralized areas (and their associated erosional scars and debris fans) that likely influence ground- and surface-water quality and hydrology. The premining nature of the Sulphur Gulch and Goat Hill Gulch scars on the Molycorp mine site can be inferred through geologic comparisons with other unmined scars in the Red River drainage.

Version 1.0

Posted August 2005

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