Loading of Metals from Abandoned Mines in the Lefthand Creek Watershed



With initial funding from the University of Colorado's Outreach Committee, we are have been assisting the Lefthand Watershed Oversight Group (LWOG) in assessing the amount of location of metal inputs to the streams of the Lefthand Creek watershed.  The watershed is located in northwestern Boulder County, near the towns of Ward and Jamestown in the area of the historic Jamestown Mining District.

The residents of Ward and Jamestown essentially live on the waste rock and mill tailings of the abandoned mines, which include the Big Five Tunnel and Captain Jack Mill (now a Superfund site being cleaned up by the state) and Slide mines along Lefthand Creek, the Golden Age, Fair Day, and John Jay Mines along James Creek, and the Bueno, Burlington, Emmit, Argo, and Evening Star Mines along Little James Creek.

The Left Hand Watershed Task Force, sponsored by Boulder County, put considerable effort into summarizing current knowledge of mine waste impacts in the Left Hand Watershed in its 2002 report, the Left Hand Watershed Task Force Final Report to the Boulder County Board of Health (the report is available in sections; here is a full report, a 4.4 MByte pdf file).

Our research has focused on the sources of metals -- mainly copper, lead, and zinc -- in the watershed.  To do this, we have conducted metal loading tracer tests pioneered by the U.S. Geological Survey for their Abandoned Mine Lands Initiative.  For these tracer tests, a salt for which stream transport is essentially conservative (e.g., lithium chloride, sodium bromide) is steadily injected at an upstream injection point and its arrival at some downstream point is monitored by specific conductance.  Dilution of the salt concentration along the stream is used to determine stream discharge.  Once the stream contains a constantly-injected amount of the salt, a synoptic sampling is performed between the upstream injection point and the downstream monitoring point.  The synoptic sampling is a "snapshot" (with the samples collected as quickly as possible) of the salt and metal concentration in the stream.

We have now performed these tests on over 50 km of streams in the Lefthand Creek watershed and produced a comprehensive report of the sources of metals.  This report was used by LWOG to create the Lefthand Creek Watershed Plan.  More reports will be issued in the near future on metals in waste rock piles, streambed sediments, and benthic macroinvertebrates in the watershed.

As part of the Lefthand Watershed Revitalization team, Joe Ryan and Alice Wood, who completed her Master's thesis on metals in the Lefthand Creek watershed in 2004, and who served as the LWOG coordinator for its first two years, were honored with the EPA's National Notable Achievement Award for "Cross-Program Revitalization Team Award" in April 2006.  The award recognized $8 million of collaborative remediation that will result in the cleanup of most of the significant sources of metals in the watershed.


  • Relating Bioavailability of Metals to Metal Speciation and Colloid Nature and Abundance in Mountain Streams Contaminated by Acid Mine Drainage in Northwestern Boulder County, Colorado, University of Colorado Council on Research and Creative Work, 2004-2005, PI: Joe Ryan
  • Contributing to the Remediation of Abandoned Mines in the Lefthand Creek Watershed (Northwestern Boulder County, Colorado) with the Lefthand Watershed Oversight Group, University of Colorado Outreach Committee, 2003-2005, PI: Joe Ryan
  • Assessing the Risk of Mine Wastes in Jamestown, Colorado (Northwestern Boulder County), with the Citizens Advisory Group for the Environment and the James Creek Watershed Initiative, University of Colorado Outreach Committee, 2002, PI: Joe Ryan
    University of Colorado Outreach Program Grant, 2002
  • Loading of Metals and Uranium to James Creek, Northwestern Boulder County, Colorado, from Surrounding Abandoned Mines
    National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates, 2002-2004


Student Theses, Reports, and Presentations

Publications, Presentations, and News

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Roshan Cholas (REU, Summer, 2003) and Alice Wood (M.A., 2004) sample Lefthand Creek near Rowena in July 2003.

The Golden Age Mine mill in 1880 (from the Denver Public Library Western History Photography Collection).

Susan Bautts (M.S., 2006) collects streambed sediment samples from James Creek in the town of Jamestown in October 2005.

Steel cable near a mine shaft, with an acidic subsidence pit point in the background, at the Burlington Mine near the Little James Creek in 2002.

Amber Roche (Discovery Learning Apprentice) collects waste rock samples from a pile along Lefthand Creek near Lickskillet Road in March 2005.

Acid mine drainage from the Big Five Tunnel on the Captain Jack Superfund site along Lefthand Creek south of Ward.

The acidic drainage from the subsidence pit pond at the Burlington Mine showing the characteristic ferric oxyhydroxide precipitation associated with the acid mine drainage.


Last updated on April 25, 2007