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Arsenic Loads in Spearfish Creek, Western South Dakota, Water Years 1989-91

By Daniel G. Driscoll and Timothy S. Hayes

Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4080

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Lawrence County Commission,
and the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources


Numerous small tributaries on the eastern flank of Spearfish Creek originate within a mineralized area with a long history of gold-mining activity. Some streams draining this area are known to have elevated concentrations of arsenic. One such tributary is Annie Creek, where arsenic concentrations regularly approach the Maximum Contaminant Level of 50 g/L (micrograms per liter) established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A site on Annie Creek was proposed for inclusion on the National Priorities List by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1991. This report presents information about arsenic loads and concentrations in Spearfish Creek and its tributaries, including Annie Creek.

Stream types were classified according to geologic characteristics and in-stream arsenic concentrations. The first type includes streams that lack significant arsenic sources and have low in-stream arsenic concentrations. The second type has abundant arsenic sources and high in-stream concentrations. The third type has abundant arsenic sources but only moderate in-stream concentrations. The fourth type is a mixture of the first three types.

Annual loads of dissolved arsenic were calculated for two reaches of Spearfish Creek to quantify arsenic loads at selected gaging stations during water years 1989-91. Mass-balance calculations also were performed to estimate arsenic concentrations for ungaged inflows to Spearfish Creek. The drainage area of the upstream reach includes significant mineralized areas, whereas the drainage area of the downstream reach generally is without known arsenic sources.

The average load of dissolved arsenic transported from the upstream reach of Spearfish Creek, which is representative of a type 4 stream, was 158 kilograms per year, calculated for station 06430900, Spearfish Creek above Spearfish. Gaged headwater tributaries draining unmineralized areas (type 1) contributed only 16 percent of the arsenic load in 63 percent of the discharge. Annie Creek (type 2), which has the highest measured arsenic concentrations in the Spearfish Creek drainage, contributed about 15 percent of the arsenic load in about 2 percent of the discharge of the upstream reach. Squaw Creek, which drains another mineralized area, but has only moderate in-stream concentrations (type 3), contributed 4 percent of the arsenic load in 5 percent of the discharge. Ungaged inflows to the reach contributed the remaining 65 percent of the arsenic load in 30 percent of the discharge. The calculated loads from ungaged inflows include all arsenic contributed by surface- and ground-water sources, as well as any additions of arsenic from dissolution of arsenic-bearing solid phases, or from desorption of arsenic from solid surfaces, within the streambed of the upstream reach.

Mass-balance calculations indicate that dissolved arsenic concentrations of the ungaged inflows in the upstream reach averaged about 9 g/L. In-stream arsenic concentrations of ungaged inflows from the unmineralized western flank of Spearfish Creek probably are generally low (type 1). Thus, in-stream arsenic concentrations for ungaged inflows draining the mineralized eastern flank of Spearfish probably average almost twice that level, or about 18 g/L. Some ungaged, eastern-flank inflows probably are derived from type 3 drainages, with only moderate arsenic concentrations. If so, other ungaged, eastern-flank inflows could have in-stream arsenic concentrations similar to those of Annie Creek.

No significant arsenic sources were apparent in the downstream reach of Spearfish Creek. Over the course of the downstream reach, arsenic concentrations decreased somewhat, probably resulting from dilution, as well as from possible chemical adsorption to sediment surfaces or arsenic-phase precipitation. A decrease in arsenic loads resulted from various diversions from the creek and from the potential chemical removal processes.

Because of a large margin of error associated with calculation of arsenic loads for the downstream reach, it is difficult to conclude decisively that chemical removal occurs. It can be concluded, however, that arsenic concentrations do not increase significantly in the downstream reach as a result of interactions with streambed and alluvial sediments. Thus, it also can be concluded that streambed interactions within the channel of Spearfish Creek probably are not a significant source of arsenic within the upstream reach.




Purpose and scope

Description of study area

Available data and classification of stream types

Discharge data

Arsentic concentrations

Stream types

Methods for calculating arsenic loads

Arsenic loads in Spearfish Creek

Upstream reach

Downstream reach

Summary and conclusions

References cited


Suggested Citation:

Driscoll, D.G., and Hayes, T.S., 1995, Arsenic loads in Spearfish Creek, western South Dakota, water years 1989-91: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4080, 28 p.

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Send questions or comments about this report to the author, D.G. Driscoll (605) 355-4560 ext. 211.

For more information about USGS activities in South Dakota, visit the USGS South Dakota District home page.

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