I go to SW Colorado yearly for various activities. The areas I would like to backpack there does usually have plenty of water from streams and small pools. However, every stream at some point runs through or across mine tailings. There are pools usually near mine tailings as well. Is this water usable after filter and tablets? Asking because of the metals and other possible toxins. The streams always "look" good, but the pools usually look like crap.
I need to add, these tailings are not from active mining. The tailing are usually at least 80 years old.
Loc: San Diego CA
What activities are tailings from? Generally speaking, standard filters and tablets for backcountry use are geared for removing biological "contaminants" like giardia. Sounds like you need to research these areas to see what information is available.
If I recall, most of the past mining in SW Colorado was for gold and silver (or uranium). As you are aware, the issue with water from such mine tailings is its content of dissolved minerals, heavy metals and ionic constituents. Around here, (SE Arizona) water leaching through copper and gold mine tailings carries concentrations of mercury, molybdenum, manganese, zinc, arsenic, selenium, copper, sulfate and nitrate all in concentrations exceeding the EPA drinking water health guidelines. Most hard-rock gold, silver and copper mine tailings in the West have similar characteristics; they are acidic and heavy metal rich. Filters and tablets will not remove these contaminates from water; you need a resin exchange column or equivalent for the job.
The clarity of water and the age of the tailings is not a reliable guide to the quality of water, only chemical analysis can identify water contaminated by dissolved minerals.
Another issue you need to consider is that piles of material that appear to be mine tailings may be leftovers from gold recovery using the cyanide leach process.You are not likely to encounter such piles but water from them can kill you quickly and the leach piles are not always identified as such.
Water quality of most of the streams in SW Colorado is probably OK with respect to minerals (but not necessarily biologicals) however you should rely on local knowledge to identify the streams that are not safe. The state may have a register of contaminated streams that might help if you can locate it and access it.
But, to re-answer your original question: no, filters and purification tablets will not make water contaminated with toxic dissolved minerals safe to drink.
Ditto to the above. Mine runoff contamination is not identifiable in the field and can include a witches' brew of metals, minerals and acid. Some of California's most contaminated waste sites are old mines, and there are tens of thousands more out there.
We have one mine site with runoff so acidic it has a negative pH, something I never learned of in chemistry class. But my biggest fears are mercury and cyanide. Mercury remains in our streams and rivers from the 1850s.
Thanks so much. I have really been wondering about that in relation to a filter's capacity for the heavy metals and minerals. The streams, I really do wonder about; as most of them at some point seem to go through an area with tailings. But, I could ask local guides about that. I do know cyanide should be a non-issue. I mess with that stuff very often in the pure form. In nature, it converts to inert (thiocyanate) very quickly.
So, don't get any from the pools, but I should inquire about the streams.
P.S. the area I go to is the Ouray & Silverton area. Family actually has a hunting cabin (no elect./no running water) on Red Mountain Pass.