Regional scale selenium loading associated with surface coal mining, Elk Valley, British Columbia, Canada
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Selenium (Se) concentrations in surface water downstream of surface mining operations have been reported at levels in excess of water quality guidelines for the protection of wildlife. Previous research in surface mining environments has focused on downstream water quality impacts, yet little is known about the fundamental controls on Se loading. This study investigated the relationship between mining practices, stream flows and Se concentrations using a SPAtially Referenced Regression On Watershed attributes (SPARROW) model. This work is part of a R&D program examining the influence of surface coal mining on hydrological and water quality responses in the Elk Valley, British Columbia, Canada, aimed at informing effective management responses. Results indicate that waste rock volume, a product of mining activity, accounted for roughly 80% of the Se load from the Elk Valley, while background sources accounted for roughly 13%. Wet years were characterized by more than twice the Se load of dry years. A number of variables regarding placement of waste rock within the catchments, length of buried streams, and the construction of rock drains did not significantly influence the Se load. The age of the waste rock, the proportion of waste rock surface reclaimed, and the ratio of waste rock pile side area to top area all varied inversely with the Se load from watersheds containing waste rock. These results suggest operational practices that are likely to reduce the release of Se to surface waters.
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