Water-Quality Characteristics for Selected Streams in Lawrence County, South Dakota, 1988-92

By Joyce E. Williamson and Timothy S. Hayes



Water Resources Investigation Report 00-4220


Prepared in cooperation with Lawrence County and the

South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources


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During the 1980’s, significant economic development and population growth began to occur in Lawrence County in the northern part of the Black Hills of western South Dakota. Rising gold prices and heap-leach extraction methods allowed the economic recovery of marginal gold ore deposits, resulting in development of several large-scale, open-pit gold mines in Lawrence County. There was increasing local concern regarding potential impacts on the hydrologic system, especially relating to the quantity and quality of water in the numerous streams and springs of Lawrence County.


In order to characterize the water quality of selected streams within Lawrence County, samples were collected from 1988 through 1992 at different times of the year and under variable hydrologic conditions. During the time of this study, the Black Hills area was experiencing a drought; thus, most samples were collected during low-flow conditions.


Streamflow and water-quality characteristics in Lawrence County are affected by both geologic conditions and precipitation patterns. Most streams that cross outcrops of the Madison Limestone and Minnelusa Formation lose all or large part of their streamflow to aquifer recharge. Streams that are predominantly spring fed have relatively stable streamflow, varying slightly with dry and wet precipitation cycles.


Most streams in Lawrence County generally have calcium magnesium bicarbonate type waters. The sites from the mineralized area of central Lawrence County vary slightly from other streams in Lawrence County by having higher concentrations of sodium, less bicarbonate, and more sulfate. False Bottom Creek near Central City has more sulfate than bicarbonate.


Nitrogen, phosphorous, and cyanide concentrations were at or near the laboratory reporting limits for most sites and did not exceed any of the water-quality standards. Nitrite plus nitrate concentrations at Annie Creek near Lead, Whitetail Creek at Lead, Squaw Creek near Spearfish, and Spearfish Creek below Robison Gulch were somewhat higher than at other sites. Mining activity, agricultural activity, and domestic development are possible sources of nitrogen to the streams. Increased mining activities were identified as the probable cause of increased nitrogen concentrations in Annie Creek.


In the mineralized area of the northern Black Hills, detectable concentrations of trace elements are common in stream water, occasionally exceeding beneficial-use and aquatic-life criteria. In addition, many basins have been disturbed by both historical and recent mining operations and cleanup activities. The maximum dissolved arsenic concentration at Annie Creek near Lead (48 micrograms per liter) approached the current arsenic drinking-water standard. Concentrations at or greater than 5 micrograms per liter were found in samples from Annie Creek near Lead, Spearfish Creek above Spearfish, Whitetail Creek at Lead, and False Bottom Creek near Spearfish. Bear Butte Creek near Deadwood had one sample with a dissolved copper concentration that exceeded acute and chronic aquatic-life criteria. Bear Butte Creek near Deadwood had several manganese concentrations that exceeded the secondary maximum contaminant level of 50 micrograms per liter.


Bed-sediment and water-quality data from selected sites in small drainage basins were used to determine if factors such as pH, arsenic concentrations in bed sediments, and calcite saturation control dissolved arsenic concentrations. Arsenic solubility is controlled by adsorption, mainly on ferrihydrite. In addition, adsorption/desorption of arsenic is controlled by the pH of the stream, with high arsenic concentrations appearing only at higher pH conditions (above 8). There are significant arsenic sources available to almost all the small streams of the northern Black Hills mining area, but arsenic is less mobile in streams that are not influenced to the higher pH values by calcite. Streams where arsenic is more mobile have lower iron concentrations in their bed sediments, and they have relatively high concentrations of calcite


Additional water-quality data have been collected as part of other studies or monitoring programs by the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Summaries of selected data from these other sources are included as additional information.





Purpose and Scope

Description of the Study Area

Physiography and Climate

Land Use



Data Collection

Sampling Sites

Sampling Methods

Analytical Results

General Water-Quality Characteristics

Beneficial Uses and Water-Quality Criteria

Consideration of Streamflow Conditions

Water-Quality Characteristics

Physical Properties

Dissolved Solids and Major Ions

Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Cyanide

Minor and Trace Elements

Selected Water-Quality Characteristics Related to Mining

Whitewood Creek Studies

Water and Sediment Chemistry near Selected Mining Areas

Arsenic Mobility for Selected Sites near Mining Areas

Additional Water-Quality Data



Supplemental Data


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