History of Whitewood Creek

For 100 years from 1877 to 1977, Homestake discharged at least 100 million tons of gold-mill tailings and hazardous substances. Approximately 2,700 tons of contaminated sediments from Homestake were deposited daily into Whitewood Creek from about 1900 to 1978. From 1920 to 1977, about 270,000 tons of arsenic was discharged into Whitewood Creek. Historically, gold was recovered by gravity or by amalgamation with mercury. Since the early 1900’s, cyanide was used for gold extraction. Whitewood Creek was an efficient conduit, transporting contaminated sediments into the slow, meandering Belle Fourche River, because much of Whitewood Creek’s channel downstream of Lead is steep and incised into bedrock. The EPA designated it as a Superfund Site in the early 1990’s when heavy metals were again detected in an area of the creek; clean-up was conducted, and it was deleted from the Superfund in 1999.

The Information in the preceding paragraph comes from the FINAL CONCEPTUAL RESTORATION AND COMPENSATION PLAN FOR WHITEWOOD CREEK AND THE BELLE FOURCHE AND CHEYENNE RIVER WATERSHEDS, SOUTH DAKOTA

Homestake discontinued use of mercury in the amalgamation process in 1970, and sediment discharge was discontinued not long after. The changes were noticeable almost immediately. Remediation strategies were developed by several agencies, including Homestake, who developed a strain of bacteria that could metabolize high levels of cyanide, removing it from the discharge. The new water treatment plant in Deadwood began removing sewage contaminants and other chemicals from the creek in 1979. In 1980 invertebrate life began to reappear. In 1984 finishing touches on the project were completed, and by 1985 fish were found in the stream. And for the first time in over 180 years it was considered safe for children to play in the stream.

Englewood Springs Botanical Area Management Plan published January, 2011

Englewood Springs (A headwater of Whitewood Creek)
New Research on WW Cr. Soils in the Belle Fourche and Cheyenne River from the Homestake

Our first trip into the field to collect data was on September 16, 2010

Our purpose is to begin to monitor several parameters of the spring’s hydrologic assests. We will be mentored by Jill Larson, U.S.F.S. Botanist for the Northern Hills Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest, (BHNF). We sampled NO3-, NO4+, Ca2+, pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen (DO), flow rate, conductivity, and temperature. We intend to sample at the top of this site once in the fall and once in the spring (it is inaccesible in the winter and always fragile), and three times at the bottom.


Hydrologic parameters may tell us something about possible habitat requirements for the Broad-lipped Twayblade, Listera convallarioides, a rare orchid that occurs at only four sites in the BHNF, and the other species within this groundwater dependent ecosystem.
Another goal is to reduce the invasive species at the site. The students will count weeds in a sample plot, remove the weeds, and repeat every season to see if there is a reduction in the number of weeds in the sample plots over time. Seed heads of houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) and bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) were cut and removed from the site. In addition, Cirsium spp. plants were pulled and vegetative material was left on site to compost. Students are also working within an older test site where the weeds have undergone a pulling treatment, building on data over the previous five years.


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The Broad-lipped Twayblade, Listera convallariodes