Projects

Long-term Water Quality Monitoring, Colstrip, Montana. Mining of near surface coal deposits in Montana and Wyoming is a significant commercial industry. The Rosebud Coal formation is a member of the Paleocene age Fort Union formation is mined at Colstrip Montana. A large portion of the coal mined is burned on-site for power generation. The large ecological disturbance caused by mining and power generation is a concern to nearby residents, particularly the ranching community downgradient from the mine disturbance. This research project is in its 24th year and provides twice yearly sample collection of ground, surface and spring water quality to ensure the non-degradation of water quality in ranch lands adjacent to the mine. Client: Battelle -- Pacific Northwest Division.


Development and Application of a Pre-Remedial Design Tool For The Clark Fork River Superfund SiteDevelopment and Application of a Pre-Remedial Design Tool For The Clark ForkRiver Superfund Site. In 2004 the Environmental Protection Agency released a record of decision for the remediation of one of the nation's largest Superfund sites -- the upper Clark Fork River in western Montana. Fluvially deposited hard rock mine, mill, and smelter wastes from the Butte/Anaconda industrial complex have contaminated the river's floodplain. These acid metalliferous materials vary in depth from a few centimeters to at least one meter. Phytotoxic conditions limit agricultural production, barren river banks are unstable, and the amount of copper released to the river results in both acute and chronic impacts to aquatic receptors. As stipulated in the Record of Decision, exposed tailings are to be removed, backfilled with clean soil, and revegetated. Streambanks will be stabilized by "soft" engineering -- vegetation fabric, willows, logs, and root wads. Areas of impacted soil and vegetation will be treated in place, using careful addition of lime and other amendments, soil mixing, and re-vegetation. The Record of Decision also specified all land within the site be classified so that impacted areas requiring remediation could be identified. Such a classification system, called the Riparian Evaluation System (RipES) uses key indicators of landscape stability and plant community dysfunction to categorize delineated portions of the site as unique polygons. Each polygon is associated with exact location, surface area, waste volume, and other attributes that are displayed as geographic information system layers over base area photographs. During the 2006/2007 field seasons, the first 80 km of floodplain were classified into one of four major types: (1) streambank (further classified by stability type), (2) exposed tailings, (3) impacted soils and vegetation areas, or (4) slightly impacted soils and vegetation areas. For each of these polygons, a RipES score was derived to determine the most appropriate cleanup remedy specified by the record of decision.
Project Publications: Contact RRG for multiple publications
http://www.epa.gov/Region8/superfund/sites/mt/milltowncfr/CFRRipESCombined.pdf
Client: Dennis Smith/CH2M Hill, Boise, ID and USEPA, Region VIII, Montana Office


Phytostabilization of Tailings Pond at an Abandoned Hard Rock Mine. Acid metalliferous wastes resulting from historic gold and copper mining operations at the Keating Mine site in Montana contain phytotoxic levels of several metals and are generally devoid of vegetation. With an estimated volume of 100,000 m3, these tailings represent unacceptable risk to the environment and human health. The tailings are acidic, with pH levels less than 4, and contain elevated concentrations of metals, including copper (500 mg/kg), arsenic (300 mg/kg), and zinc (1000 mg/kg).

Replicated experimental plots were implemented in 2003 using soil amendments, lime and organic matter, designed to reduce the plant inhibiting chemical characteristics of the tailings. The plots were seeded with a mix of indigenous native plant species. Vegetation performance of plants grown in the amended or phytostabilized tailings was compared to results for plants seeded into tailings that were not amended, and performance of plants seeded in an adjacent off-site, but non-impacted area.

Phytostabilization of Tailings Pond at an Abandoned Hard Rock MineAdditions of Ca(OH)2, CaCO3 and organic matter allowed seeded native vegetation to establish on previously barren acid metalliferous tailings. Soluble concentrations of metals in the treated root zone were reduced one to three orders of magnitude compared to untreated tailings. Four year's of monitoring data include vegetation emergence and establishment, density, above ground biomass, and canopy cover by species. Canopy cover of perennial grasses growing on the treated tailings was statistically greater than grasses on the untreated tailings and equivalent to grasses growing on the off-site native soils. Colonization by forbs, shrubs, and trees into the treated plots was noted in 2007. These included plains cottonwood (Populus deltoides) aspen (Populus tremuloides), rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Vegetation in treated plots was dominated by robust slender wheatgrass (Elymus trachycaulus). Concentrations of metals in vegetation were evaluated in terms of plant sufficiency/excess, and in terms of maximum allowable dietary levels for cattle. Elemental levels in perennial grasses were generally below the maximum tolerable concentrations suggested by the National Research Council (NRC 2005) for grazing cattle and horses.
Project Online Publications:
http://www.blm.gov/nstc/library/pdf/TN420.pdf
Client: USDOI-Bureau of Land Management


Billings Land Reclamation Symposia SeriesBillings Land Reclamation Symposia Series. A Joint Conference of the Billings Land Reclamation Symposium and the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Mining and Reclamation will be held during the first week in June of 2009. Over the past 25 years, the BLRS has focused on land reclamation and rehabilitation issues relevant to the Northern Great Plains and Intermountain West. This symposium has provided a comprehensive forum for dissemination of information through workshops, presentations of research findings, field tours, and the open discussion of public policy relating to land management issues in this region. The BLRS has fostered communication among extractive resource industries, land users and managers, public policy makers, environmental consultants, and the university research community. Its traditional concept has been one of achieving common goals through appropriate partnerships.
Project Publications: Contact RRG for Proceedings of past Symposia.


Effects of Acid Rock Drainage and Associated Environmental Contaminants on Fish and Wildlife in Alaska. The US Fish and Wildlife Service -- Anchorage, AK Field Office has contracted the Reclamation Research Group to complete a literature review on the effects of acid rock drainage and associated environmental contaminants on freshwater fish health and ecology. Several large mine projects in Alaska have the potential to adversely effect fisheries through degradation of surface water by oxidation of sulfides unearthed during mining. The USWFS is the federal Trustee for these resources and requires that permitted activities carry no undue environmental impact. To ensure that federal managers are aware of the specific consequence and appropriate mitigation, the Reclamation Research Group was contracted to prepare a report highlighting findings from the scientific literature and practical guidelines developed by practitioners to characterize and mitigate the consequence of acid rock drainage.


Restoration Planning at Milltown Reservoir A large dam was built at the confluence of Montana's Blackfoot and Clark Fork River in 1906 for power generation. A 1908 flood substantially filled the reservoir with mine waste, ultimately resulting in contamination of the nearby community water supply. Removal of the dam and contaminated sediments was ordered by EPA followed by restoration of the floodplain. Identification of clean borrow soil suitable for plant growth has been initiated in parallel with delineation of the extent of contaminated sediment. This project is ongoing with floodplain restoration planned for 2009 and 2010. The legacy of this project will be a free flowing river substantially decontaminated of mine waste.
Client: Montana Department of Justice, Natural Resource Damage Program
Project Publications: Contact RRG for multiple publications


Remedial Design for Stabilization of Floodplain Tailings, Operable Unit 11, Leadville, Colorado   Remedial Design for Stabilization of Floodplain Tailings, Operable Unit 11, Leadville, Colorado Historic mining occurring in Leadville Colorado has resulted in releases of contaminated soil, tailings and water to the Arkansas River. Flood events, irrigation and natural geomorphic processes have reshaped these deposits resulting in a mosaic of soil and vegetation condition ranging from bare fluvial tailing deposits to robust native vegetation. Risks to water resources, aquatic receptors and phytotoxicity to vegetation caused EPA to prioritize action to mitigate these environmental threats. The Reclamation Research Group was contracted to streamline implementation of the remedy based on similar experiences in Montana. Site characterization, data collection and field reconnaissance has been completed and construction is planned for 2008-2009 of an 11 mile reach of the Arkansas River.
Client: EPA Region VIII, Denver, CO
Project Publications: Pending


Development of Acid and Metal Tolerant Native Plants through Micro-cutting Propagation Development of Acid and Metal Tolerant Native Plants through Micro-cutting Propagation Revegetation of disturbed land is complicated by several factors including the availability of plant material. Native grass seed is widely available and inexpensive, yet many degraded sites have sufficiently unique chemical conditions that commercially available seed performs poorly. Development of alternative cultivars is a decade long process. As a result the palate of available species is drastically narrowed by both the inhospitable soil conditions created by elevated metal levels and soil acidity, and the commercial absence of tolerant native plant options. However, many disturbed sites exhibit recolonization along the fringes by tolerant native plants that exhibit unique adaptation to these harsh mine environment conditions. While seed is unavailable for these colonizing "superplants", micro-cuttings can be collected and grown into clonal greenhouse stock through tissue culturing. Working with a small specialty company, SBIR funding has been used to identify, collect and propagate native plants found growing in acidic and metal-enriched mine waste. Proof of principle has been established and additional funding has been sought to commercialize the collection, propagation and sale of these unique plant assemblages.
Client: Mike King, SMK Plants


Capping and Closure of Coal Ash Disposal Ponds, Vegetation Performance and Soil Water Modeling Coal combustion in power plants generates large volumes as ash in the U.S. annually. Coal ash is sometimes converted to building materials such as cement block, or sometimes stored on-site. Revegetation of ash disposal ponds has been performed using earthen covers and the resulting plant community is being monitored to evaluate successional processes. Additional studies have been instrumented using soil sensors and dataloggers to quantify the evapotranspiration of precipitation by the soil cover.
Client: confidential


Assessments of Arsenic and Lead in Yard Soils and House Dusts in Anaconda Smelter NPL SiteAssessments of Arsenic and Lead in Yard Soils and House Dusts in Anaconda Smelter NPL Site. RRG scientists are assisting EPA with evaluation of arsenic and lead concentrations in yard soils and house dusts within the city of Anaconda, Mt. These activities are part of the cleanup of the Community Soils Operable Unit at the Anaconda Smelter Superfund Site. Client:
CDM Federal Programs Corp.


Several projects listed below were completed by Key Personnel while employed by the Reclamation Research Unit at MSU.

The Use of Soil Amendments for Remediation Revitalization, and Reuse. In 2006, Dennis Neuman was invited to participate in a three day Soil Amendments for Ecological Revitalization Workshop sponsored by USEPA. The purpose of the workshop was to assess known problems and potential solutions related to the use of soil amendments in revitalizing ecosystems on contaminated lands. Two outcomes of the workshop were the publications of a white paper titled: The Use of Soil Amendments for the Remediation, Revitalization and Reuse (EPA 542-R-07-013), and development of an online Technical Performance Measures matrix identifying attributes that can be measured to assess the success and performance of landscapes to which soils amendments have been applied.
Project Publications:
http://www.clu-in.org/pub1.cfm


Development of a Qualitative Reclamation Assessment Handbook for Abandoned Hardrock Mine Lands.  Development of a Qualitative Reclamation Assessment Handbook for Abandoned Hardrock Mine Lands. The Abandoned Mine Lands Inventory System (AMLIS) includes nearly 1100 abandoned mines in Montana. The Montana offices of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service as well as the Montana Department of Environmental Quality AML Program have been working to clean up these abandoned mine lands since 1995. The agencies in general have given priority to sites with mill tailings and waste rock dumps situated in stream channels, and in Montana the clean up of impacted lands on a watershed basis through interagency cooperation has been emphasized. There is a developing desire of the federal agencies to begin monitoring these sites in a systematic way. A set of evaluation forms were developed that ask multiple questions regarding pertinent attributes that are found at specific locations within a reclaimed mine site (repository, wetland, etc.). The attributes may include vegetation cover, status of a cap or liner, roads, evidence of AMD, etc. The responses are qualitative in nature and agency personnel can be trained to accurately and precisely (repeatedly) provide the required information. The overall objective is to provide a common platform to evaluate these sites so that federal agencies responsible for risk management and land management can easily communicate and work in partnership to accomplish their respective missions. In the summer of 2006, BLM personnel assessed twelve remediated mine sites using the protocol and handbook.. Outcomes of a systematic monitoring program envisioned by the federal agencies include the need for maintenance, generation of temporal information that will allow trend analysis of cleanup status, and identification of cleanup methods and technologies that are proven effective and those that have resulted in poor performance. Data and information can be used by the agencies to provide evidence that reclamation work performed remains protective of the resources and reductions in human health risk are maintained.
Project Publications: Contact RRG for electronic copy of the Handbook
Clients: USDA/USFS and USDOI/BLM


Bond Release Vegetation Criteria. Since the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) in 1977, vegetation data have been collected by mine operators to describe pre-mining vegetation and establish baseline data from which vegetation reference areas can be derived. These vegetation reference areas are intended to serve as a standard for comparisons to revegetated areas on reclaimed coal mines to evaluate the success of reclamation for bond release. To date, the reference area data and pre-mine data have not been synthesized in a manner to facilitate statistical equivalency, derivation of revegetation standards, or facilitate appropriate categorization of reference areas and data in relation to some revegetation and postmine land use requirements. Data quality objectives and a quality assurance/quality control system were designed to screen data for inclusion in the database. A relational database has been designed and tested with representative data sets. Multivariate statistics were used to classify vegetation communities at three mine sites and these plant communities were characterized. A final operational database and user manual were written.
Client: confidential


Assessment of Effects of Amendments on Vegetation Performance at a Bentonite MinesiteAssessment of Effects of Amendments on Vegetation Performance at a Bentonite Minesite . A total of 135 experimental plots [15 treatments with 3 fertilized rates nested within each treatment and replicated three times] were implemented on bentonite spoils in the 1980s by staff of the Reclamation Research Unit at Montana State University. Treatments varied from physical manipulations to additions of chemical and biological amendments. The plots were seeded with mixes of plant species. Effects of these amendments and treatments on spoil chemistry and vegetation were documented in several early RRU reports. In April, 2005, a qualitative assessment of the vegetation status of the experimental reclamation plots was conducted. The purpose of this assessment was to determine which of the treatments support the "best" vegetation. Based on this assessment, soils and vegetation from these "best" plots were then evaluated in July. These treatments were as follows: 1) Treatment #7 -- Manure at 112 Mg/ha + H2SO4 at 20 Mg/ha; 2) Treatment #9 -- Gypsum at 6.7 Mg/ha + CaCl2 at 17.2 Mg/ha; and 3) MgCl2 Brine. The vegetation growing on these experimental plots was quantitative evaluated and reported in 2005.
Client: BLM


Evaluation of Organic Matter Addition and Incorporation on Steep Cut SlopesEvaluation of Organic Matter Addition and Incorporation on Steep Cut Slopes. Fundamental to successful revegetation of highway corridors following disturbance is the creation of a growth environment conducive to the establishment and early survival of the seeded plants. Steep cut slopes present a unique problem. The steepness of cut slopes prevents practical replacement of salvaged topsoil with conventional equipment. Current techniques all too often result in marginal plant establishment since germination and initial seedling survival is limited by nutrient poor, rocky substrates characteristic of cut slopes. These results often lead to increased erosion and sedimentation, occasional slope failure, increased noxious weed growth, and low aesthetic quality. The overall research objectives for the project were to: 1) reduce sediment yield and erosion from steep highway cut slopes through amendment with compost; 2) enhance vegetation establishment on steep highway cut slopes through amendment with compost; 3) develop amendment rates, application protocols and techniques for compost addition and incorporation on steep highway cut slopes; 4) implement, monitor and evaluate test plots on steep highway cut slopes; and 5) communicate, report and provide technology transfer of the research findings. This project was completed in 2006. Final Report ID: FHWA/MT-07-001/8176. Client: Montana Department of Transportation.


Optimization of Construction BMP Performance in the Northern Rockies for Enhanced Stormwater Control . The overall purpose of this project is to evaluate the effectiveness of installed stormwater BMPs under several geological and climatological regimes characteristic of the Northern Rocky Mountains. Data and observations from this investigation will be synthesized and modeled to formulate improved guidelines for BMP construction. Dynamic technology transfer will be employed to disseminate these guidelines and associated documents through interactive, computer-based products including both website and CD media. This project is progressing through five related parts described below:

  1. Literature review of existing stormwater BMP guidelines from Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming;
  2. Inventory of BMPs utilized in Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs) filed with State regulatory offices in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming;
  3. Assessment and evaluation of the apparent effectiveness of these BMPs as installed in the field;
  4. Data interpretation, computer modeling and synthesis of the assembled information;

Technology transfer utilizing several media formats with emphasis placed on delivering design guidelines to permittees. Client: US EPA


Development of the Land Reclamation Evaluation System (LRES) for the Anaconda Smelter SuperFund Site Development of the Land Reclamation Evaluation System (LRES) for the Anaconda Smelter SuperFund Site . Tens of thousands of acres of land have been disturbed in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin as a result of historic mining and smelting. The Anaconda Smelter site was used to process hundreds of millions of tons of ore for recovery of copper and other metals. The resulting waste disposal area and landscape downwind from the smelter stack were designated as a federal Superfund site. Remediation of the site was mandated by EPA, yet the Record of Decision did not specifically delineate the areas of remediation. Rather, EPA prescribed the use of the Land Reclamation Evaluation System or LRES. The LRES was developed to objectively delineate tens of thousands of acres of land for remediation through field evaluation of soil and vegetation conditions paired to the potential for re-release of contamination. The complex pattern of vegetation at the site required careful preservation of good vegetation while treating adjacent areas of barren and sparsely vegetated land. Remediation at this site is on-going using the LRES-delineated areas.