Robert W. Nairn, PhD, is the David L. Boren Distinguished Professor and Sam K. Viersen Family Presidential Professor in the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science at the University of Oklahoma (OU), director of the Center for Restoration of Ecosystems and Watersheds (CREW), associate director of the Water Technologies for Emerging Regions (WaTER) Center and adjunct professor of biology. He holds a BS from Juniata College and a PhD from Ohio State University, both in environmental science.
His presentation will focus on the surface and ground waters in the Tar Creek (KS-OK) watershed of the Tri-State Lead-Zinc Mining District, deemed to be degraded due to "irreversible man-made damages" over 35 years ago; an administrative decision resulting in minimal efforts to address risk from legacy pollution. Artesian flowing mine waters, from a 26 billion gallon mine pool, substantial tailings pile (covering several thousand acres), leachate and runoff contribute elevated ecotoxic metals concentrations to receiving streams. Despite nearly 40 years as a U.S. EPA Superfund Site, Tar Creek remains listed on the state's Clean Water Act 303(d) List of Impaired Waters and is considered a habitat-Limited Aquatic Community.
Two full-scale, ecologically engineered mine water passive treatment systems (PTS) were installed to address some of these source waters contaminated by elevated concentrations of iron, zinc, lead, cadmium, and arsenic. How each contaminating element is removed will be addressed. The receiving stream has demonstrated substantial improvement and ecological recovery. However, there are still significant pollution sources degrading the area. Comprehensive watershed-scale restoration planning indicates that multiple, targeted passive treatment systems, in conjunction with land reclamation and related activities, would lead to considerable instream water quality improvement. Implementation of passive treatment technologies beyond the demonstration level requires revisiting and revising previous administrative decisions.
Nairn was previously a research biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Mines. His research and teaching focus broadly on natural infrastructure that benefits society and environmental quality, with an emphasis on water quality, watershed biogeochemistry, ecological engineering and ecosystem restoration.