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Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5048

Prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service

Water Quality of Streams Draining Abandoned and Reclaimed Mined Lands in the Kantishna Hills Area, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, 2008–11

By Timothy P. Brabets and Robert T. Ourso

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (4.5 MB)Abstract

The Kantishna Hills are an area of low elevation mountains in the northwest part of Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Streams draining the Kantishna Hills are clearwater streams that support several species of fish and are derived from rain, snowmelt, and subsurface aquifers. However, the water quality of many of these streams has been degraded by mining. Past mining practices generated acid mine drainage and excessive sediment loads that affected water quality and aquatic habitat. Because recovery through natural processes is limited owing to a short growing season, several reclamation projects have been implemented on several streams in the Kantishna Hills region. To assess the current water quality of streams in the Kantishna Hills area and to determine if reclamation efforts have improved water quality, a cooperative study between the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service was undertaken during 2008–11.

High levels of turbidity, an indicator of high concentrations of suspended sediment, were documented in water-quality data collected in the mid-1980s when mining was active. Mining ceased in 1985 and water-quality data collected during this study indicate that levels of turbidity have declined significantly. Turbidity levels generally were less than 2 Formazin Nephelometric Units and suspended sediment concentrations generally were less than 1 milligram per liter during the current study. Daily turbidity data at Rock Creek, an unmined stream, and at Caribou Creek, a mined stream, documented nearly identical patterns of turbidity in 2009, indicating that reclamation as well as natural revegetation in mined streams has improved water quality.

Specific conductance and concentrations of dissolved solids and major ions were highest from streams that had been mined. Most of these streams flow into Moose Creek, which functions as an integrator stream, and dilutes the specific conductance and ion concentrations. Calcium and magnesium are the dominant cations, and bicarbonate and sulfate are the dominant anions. Water samples indicate that the water from Rock Creek, Moose Creek, Slate Creek, and Eldorado Creek is a calcium bicarbonate-type water. The remaining sites are a calcium sulfate type water.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for arsenic and antimony in drinking water were exceeded in water at Slate Creek and Eureka Creek. Concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc in streambed sediments at many sites exceed sediment quality guideline thresholds that could be toxic to aquatic life. However, assessment of these concentrations, along with the level of organic carbon detected in the sediment, indicate that only concentrations of arsenic and chromium may be toxic to aquatic life at many sites.

In 2008 and 2009, 104 macroinvertebrate taxa and 164 algae taxa were identified from samples collected from seven sites. Of the macroinvertebrates, 86 percent were insects and most of the algae consisted of diatoms. Based on the National Community Index, Rock Creek, a reference site, and Caribou Creek, and a mined stream that had undergone some reclamation, exhibited the best overall stream conditions; whereas Slate Creek and Friday Creek, two small streams that were mined extensively, exhibited the worst stream conditions. A non-metric multi-dimensional scaling analysis of the macroinvertebrate and algae data showed a distinct grouping between the 2008 and 2009 samples, likely because of differences between a wet, cool summer in 2008 and a dry, warm summer in 2009.

First posted March 29, 2013

For additional information contact:
Director, Alaska Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
4210 University Dr.
Anchorage, Alaska 99508-4560

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Suggested citation:

Brabets, T.P., and Ourso, R.T., 2013, Water quality of streams draining abandoned and reclaimed mined lands in the Kantishna Hills area, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, 2008–11: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5048, 72 p.




Methods of Data Collection and Analysis

Water-Quality Characteristics

Biological Characteristics



References Cited


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