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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances

Toxics Program Remediation Activities

Mercury Transport in the Carson River Basin

  • Feasibility Studies
  • Site Characterization
  • Lahontan Reservoir, NV
  • Carson River Basin, NV
Technology To Be Determined. Could include streambank stabilization and the creation of an upstream reservoir.
  • Mercury
  • Methylmercury

Due to concerns about elevated levels of mercury in fish in the Carson River Basin from Dayton, NV, to the Lahontan Reservoir, the Nevada State Division of Health is advising anglers to not eat fish caught from this part of the river basin. The source of the mercury in this part of the Carson River Basin comes from the erosion of upstream bank sediments that were severely contaminated with mercury during gold mining operations in the late 1800s at the Virginia City Comstock Load in the upper part of the Basin. In response to the growing concern about the mercury contamination in the Basin, USGS scientists in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) began an investigation in April 2001 to determine factors affecting the fate and transport of mercury species in Lahontan Reservoir, part of the Carson River Basin. Based on methods developed by the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program's San Francisco Bay studies, USGS scientists are determining the remobilization and discharge of mercury species from sediments of Lahontan Reservoir. The magnitude of the remobilization is estimated by determining the benthic flux of dissolved contaminants from the reservoir’s bottom sediments. In addition, water-column chemistry and mercury methylation/demethylation rates are being determined to provide a scientific basis for remedial actions for the reservoir and watershed, both in terms of water-quality and fisheries resources. Based on these measurements by the USGS research team, a mercury fate and transport model will be constructed for the Lahontan Reservoir by our collaborators at the University of Toronto. This information will then be used by USEPA (Region 9) to assess various remediation strategies aimed at reducing methylmercury production and bioaccumulation in the Reservoir and the river/wetland system downstream.

More Information
  • James Kuwabara, USGS, National Research Program, Menlo Park, CA,
  • Mark Marvin-Dipasquale, USGS, National Research Program, Menlo Park, CA,
Kuwabara, J.S., Marvin-Dipasquale, M., Praskins, W., Byron, E., Topping, B.R., Carter, J.L., Fend, S.V., Parchaso, F., and Krabbenhoft, D.P., 2002,
Flux of dissolved forms of mercury across the sediment-water interface in Lahontan Reservoir, Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 02-4138, 48 p.
Bevans, H.E., Lico, M.S., and Lawrence, S.J., 1998,
Water quality in the Las Vegas Valley Area and the Carson and Truckee River Basins, Nevada and California, 1992-96,: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1170, updated March 19, 1998.
Hoffman R.J., Taylor R.L., 1998,
Mercury and suspended sediment, Carson River Basin, Nevada--Loads to and from Lahontan Reservoir in flood year 1997 and deposition in Reservoir prior to 1983: U. S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS-001-98, 6 p.
Hoffman R.J., Thomas K.A., 2000,
Methylmercury in Water and Bottom Sediment Along the Carson River System, Nevada and California, September 1998: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4013, 17 p.
Kuwabara, J.S., Berelson, W.M., Balistrieri, L.S., Woods, P.F., Topping, B.R., Steding, D.J., and Krabbenhoft, D.P., 2000,
Benthic flux of metals and nutrients into the water column of Lake Coeur d'Alene, Idaho---Report of an August, 1999, pilot study: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4132, 74 p.
Marvin-DiPasquale, M., Agee, J., McGowan, C., Oremland, R.S., Thomas, M., Krabbenhoft, D., and Gilmour, C.C., 2000,
Methyl-mercury degradation pathways--A comparison among three mercury-impacted ecosystems: Environmental Science and Technology, v. 34, no. 23, p. 4908-4916.
Topping, B.R., Kuwabara, J.S., Parchaso, F., Hager, S.W., Arnsberg, A.J., and Murphy, F., 2001,
Benthic flux of dissolved nickel into the water column of South San Francisco Bay: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 01-89, 50 p.

Other Studies Using the Same Methods to Determine the Benthic Flux of Metals

USGS Studies Related to Mercury Remediation

Mercury Information

San Francisco Bay Information

Back to Toxics Program Remediation Activities Index

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