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Baseline to evaluate off-sitesuspended sediment-related mining effects in the Alto Tajo Natural Park, Spain

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Mining is a human activity with considerable environmental impact. To evaluate such impacts, international laws require undertaking local studies based on direct sampling to establish baseline conditions of parameters modified by human activities. Mining takes place near the Alto Tajo Natural Park, where a suspended sediment concentration (SSC) baseline is required to determine whether mining affects water quality. To this end, we have monitored the Tajo River and its tributary the Tajuelo following Before–After Control-Impact (BACI) techniques, recommended by Australian and New Zealand laws, requiring a specific method based on continuous monitoring and sampling to enable evaluation of SSCs. An SSC baseline has been defined at stations situated upstream of the mining area and compared with those downstream. The highest detected SSC upstream of the Tajuelo mines was 24 g l−1 whereas the highest simultaneous downstream value was 391 g l−1, more than one order of magnitude higher than the supposed baseline (24 g l−1). Additionally, this value is 1000 times more than the average concentration of 25 mg l−1, used by the European Union until 2015, to guarantee the quality of salmonid waters. Following a BACI approach, a statistically significant SSC impact has been identified. The mined areas are the only source that can explain this increase. This is the first instance that such an increase and baseline have been found using this method. BACI is a simple and reliable method recommended for studying degraded areas rather than an irrelevant, fixed standard as included in most international laws.
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