Using a Water Balance to Determine the Source of Water in the Flooding Underground Mine Workings of Butte
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Nearly 10,000 miles (16,000 km) of underground mine workings began flooding on April 22, 1982 when the large pumps used to dewater the mines of Butte, Montana were shut off. In the first few months, water levels in the workings rose hundreds of meters. Flooding continues to this day at a slower rate, nearly 25 years later. An early evaluation of the water chemistry in the flooding mines suggested that the initially poor water quality was the result of flushing of a reservoir of stored acidity and metals. However, a detailed water balance for the Berkeley pit, underground workings, and associated mining features suggests an alternative explanation. During the early period of mine flooding, acidic surface water from the deactivated heap leach operations and nearby acid rock drainage were routed into the empty Berkeley Pit, and thence drained downward and outward into the underground mine workings, causing widespread degradation of water quality in the underlying workings. After 21 months, the hydraulic gradients in the system reversed, causing a change in the direction of ground water flow and a gradual improvement in water quality of the mine shafts.
KeywordsBerkeley Pit Butte geochemistry ground water hydrology mine flooding water balance
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