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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Ecosystem Restoration

Volunteer Revegetation of Waste Rock Surfaces at the Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 34 No. 6, p. 2234-2242
    Received: Dec 15, 2004

    * Corresponding author(s): rich.borden@riotinto.com
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  1. Richard K. Borden *a and
  2. Rick Blackb
  1. a Rio Tinto Technical Services, 1 Research Avenue, Bundoora, Victoria 3083, Australia
    b HDR Engineering, Inc., 3995 South 700 East, Suite 100, Salt Lake City, UT 84107


Voluntary recolonization of sulfide-bearing waste rock dumps by native vegetation is inhibited by the harsh chemical and physical conditions. The success of volunteer vegetation on the waste rock surfaces at the Bingham Canyon (Utah) porphyry copper deposit is most strongly dependent on the soil pH and salinity, and to a lesser extent on physical characteristics such as compaction and distance from seed source. Vegetation cover and richness both decline below a paste pH of about 6 and above a paste conductivity of about 0.7 dS/m (for a 1:1 soil to water mixture). No significant vegetation establishment occurs below a soil pH of about 4.5. Young sulfide-bearing waste rock surfaces at Bingham Canyon have high salinity, but as reactive pyrite is depleted and salts are flushed from the soil, the salinity eventually declines, allowing volunteer native vegetation to become established on surfaces with a circumneutral pH. Under natural conditions, the pH of older acidic weathered surfaces will recover very slowly, but it can be rapidly raised by adding relatively small amounts of limestone because there are few intact reactive sulfides. For uncompacted waste rock surfaces with favorable chemical conditions, less than 90% gravel content, and that are located near a native seed source, the arithmetic mean volunteer vegetation cover was 56 ± 24% and the mean species richness was 17 ± 5. These data indicate that with adequate surface preparation and limestone addition, direct planting of older, acidic, but low salinity waste rock surfaces can greatly accelerate natural revegetation.

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Copyright © 2005. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science SocietyASA, CSSA, SSSA