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Development of Geologic-Based Risk Assessment Methods and Protocols for Environmental Assessment of Federal Lands Affected by Historical Mining: Travis Schmidt

Project Title: Development of Geologic-Based Risk Assessment Methods and Protocols for Environmental Assessment of Federal Lands Affected by Historical Mining
Mendenhall Fellow: Travis Schmidt, (303) 236-5524,
Duty Station: Denver, CO
Start Date: March 20, 2007
Education: Ph.D., 2007, Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Department, Colorado State University
Research Advisors: Stanley E. Church,; William H Clements,; John M. Besser,

Project Description: Recent surveys of mountain streams in Colorado suggest that up to 25 per cent are degraded by trace-metals (Clements et al. 2000).  Generally, this degradation is assumed to be a result of the over 23,000 abandoned mines in Colorado (  However, these mineral deposits were formed through hydrothermal geologic processes and likely influenced water quality prior to the extensive mineral extraction (Tooker, 1963; Tweto, 1968; Wanty and others, 2002).  Generally, biological assessments of mining impacts to aquatic ecosystems do not apply relevant geologic data for the selection of proper reference sites but focus on the presence or absence of mining impacts upstream of sample locations.  As a result, the extent to which mining has increased the rate of weathering of bedrock and transport of trace-metals to aquatic ecosystems throughout this region is largely unknown.

Miscellaneous graphic showing several aquatic speciesThe goal of this research is to develop biological and geochemical baselines based on catchment geology, and to determine to what extent mining has influenced the natural weathering and transport of trace-metals to aquatic ecosystems.  Project objectives are (1) to develop baselines for water quality, sediment quality, and aquatic communities based on catchment-scale geology and develop rankings of stream health based on these data; (2) evaluate the Biotic Ligand Model as a bioassessment tool capable of predicting changes in trace-metal toxicity to indigenous taxa and communities collected from streams of diverse chemical compositions; and (3) quantify the linkages between catchment-scale attributes (for example, geology, land use) to local-scale water quality, habitat, and benthic macroinvertebrate community function and structure  Throughout this work, effort will be made to link changes in local-scale geochemical, geomorphologic and biological attributes to catchment-scale land use (for example, historical mining) so that the U.S. Geological Survey can provide relevant data to Federal land managers for land use planning and develop effective strategies for managing stressors to aquatic and stream health.


Clements, W.H., Carlisle, D.M., Lazorchak, J.M., and Johnson, P.C., 2000, Heavy metals structure benthic communities in Colorado mountain streams: Ecological Applications, v. 10, p. 626–638.

Tooker, E.W., 1963, Altered wallrocks in the central part of the Front Range mineral belt, Gilpin and Clear Creek Counties, Colorado:  U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 439, 102 p.

Tweto, O. 1968. Geologic setting and interrelationships of mineral deposits in the Mountain Province of Colorado and south-central Wyoming, in Ridge, J.D., ed., Ore deposits of the United States 1933/1967: New York, The American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, p. 551–588.

Wanty, R.B., Berger, B.R., Plumlee, G.S., and King, T.V.V., 2002,  Geoenvironmental models,  in Fabbri, A.G., eds., Deposit and geoenvironmental models for resource exploitation and environmental security: Washington, D.C.,  United States Government, p. 3–42. 

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Last modified: 16:08:32 Thu 13 Dec 2012