Estimates of water and solute release from a coal waste rock dump in the Elk Valley, British Columbia, Canada
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Long term (1999 to 2014) flow and water quality data from a rock drain located at the base of a coal waste rock dump constructed in the Elk Valley, British Columbia was used to characterize the release of three solutes (NO3-, Cl- and SO42-) from the dump and obtain whole dump estimates of net percolation (NP). The concentrations of dump derived solutes in the rock drain water were diluted by snowmelt waters from the adjacent natural watershed during the spring freshet and reached a maximum concentration during the winter baseflow period. Historical peak baseflow concentrations of conservative ions (NO3- and Cl-) increased until 2006/07 after which they decreased. This decrease was attributed to completion of the flushing of the first pore volume of water stored within the dump. The baseflow SO42- concentrations increased proportionally with NO3- and Cl- to 2007, but then continued to slowly increase as NO3- and Cl- concentrations decreased. This was attributed to ongoing production of SO42- due to oxidation of sulfide minerals within the dump. Based on partitioning of the annual volume of water discharged from the rock drain to waste rock effluent (NP) and water entering the rock drain laterally from the natural watershed, the mean NP values were estimated to be 446±50mm/a (area normalized net percolation/year) for the dump and 172±71mm/a for the natural watershed. The difference was attributed to greater rates of recharge in the dump from summer precipitation compared to the natural watershed where rainfall interception and enhanced evapotranspiration will increase water losses. These estimates included water moving through subsurface pathways. However, given the limitations in quantifying these flows the estimated NP rates for both the natural watershed and the waste rock dump are considered to be low, and could be much higher (e.g. ~450mm/a and ~800mm/a).
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