Environmental Geology

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 367–380 | Cite as

Impacts of surface mine valley fills on headwater floods in eastern Kentucky

Original Article


The potential impacts of valley fills associated with mountaintop removal/valley fill (MTR/VF) coal mining on downstream flooding in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky and adjacent states are a subject of public debate and scientific uncertainty. This study explored two aspects of this issue. First, hydrologic indices of relative runoff production and surface and subsurface flow detention were applied to conditions typical of headwater and low-order drainage basins in eastern Kentucky. Results show that there is a clear risk of increased flooding (greater runoff production and less surface flow detention) following MTR/VF operations, and suggest that, on balance, valley fills are more likely to increase rather than decrease flood potential. However, there is a wide range of outcomes, qualitatively and quantitatively. Flood risks can be increased or decreased, and the degree of either may vary markedly. The effects of MTR/VF mining on downstream peak flows are highly contingent on local pre- and post-mining conditions, and it would be unwise to apply generalizations to specific sites. Second, the occurrence of flash floods downstream of MTR/VF operations when nearby unmined areas did not flood or had less severe floods has frequently been explained (without supporting data) in terms of locally greater precipitation. The likelihood of such short-range variability of storm precipitation is evaluated by applying the state probability function to NEXRAD radar estimates of precipitation for two 2001 storms which produced flash floods in eastern Kentucky. The spatial structure of the storm precipitation indicates that at the scale of the analysis (pixel size of approximately 2 km) large local variations in storm precipitation are unlikely—that is, the probability of nearby hollows or low-order drainage basins receiving substantially different storm precipitation totals is low.


Floods Peak flows Mountaintop removal mining Valley fills Relative runoff Flow detention Eastern Kentucky 


  1. Baker ME, Wiley MJ, Seelbach PW (2001) GIS-based hydrologic modeling of riparian areas: implications for stream-water quality. J Am Water Resour Assoc 37:1615–1628Google Scholar
  2. Bonta JV, Amerman CR, Harlukowicz TJ, Dick, WA (1997) Impact of coal surface mining on three Ohio watersheds—surface-water hydrology. J Am Water Resour Assoc 33 (4):907–917Google Scholar
  3. Borchers JW, Ehlke TA, Mathes MV Jr, Downs SC (1991) The effects of coal mining on the hydrologic environment of selected stream basins in southern West Virginia. USGS Water Resour Invest Rep 84-4300:1–119Google Scholar
  4. Borga M (2002) Accuracy of radar rainfall estimates for streamflow simulation. J Hydrol 267:26–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brandt SA (2000) Classification of geomorphological effects downstream of dams. Catena 40:375–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bryan BA, Hewlett JD (1981) Effect of surface mining on storm flow and peak flow from six basins in eastern Kentucky. Water Resour Bull 17:290–299Google Scholar
  7. Carpenter TM, Georgakakos KP, Sperfslagea JA (2001) On the parametric and NEXRAD-radar sensitivities of a distributed hydrologic model suitable for operational use. J Hydrol 253:169–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Coleman DS, Kupfer JA (1996) Riparian water quality buffers: estimates of effectiveness and minimum width in an agricultural landscape, western Tennessee. Southeast Geogr 36:113–127Google Scholar
  9. Collier CR, Pickering RJ, Musser JJ (1970) Influences of strip mining on the hydrologic environment of parts of Beaver Creek Basin, Kentucky, 1955–1966. USGS Prof Pap 427-C:1–80Google Scholar
  10. Collier CR, Whetstone GW, Musser JJ (1964) Influences of strip mining on the hydrologic environment of parts of Beaver Creek Basin, Kentucky, 1955–59. USGS Prof Pap 427-B:1–85Google Scholar
  11. Conservation Engineering Division, Natural Resources Conservation Service (1986) Urban hydrology for small watersheds, 2nd edn. US Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC, Technical Release 55, 164 ppGoogle Scholar
  12. Curtis WR (1969) Effects of strip mining on the hydrology of small mountain watersheds in Appalachia. In: Hutnick RJ, Davis G (eds) Ecology and reclamation of devastated land. Gordon and Breach, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Curtis WR (1977) Surface mining and the flood of April 1977. US Forest Service Research Note NE-248:1–4Google Scholar
  14. Curtis WR (1979) Surface mining and the hydrologic balance. Min Congr J (July):35–40Google Scholar
  15. Dyer KL (1983) Effects on water quality of coal mining in the basin of the North Fork Kentucky River, eastern Kentucky. USGS Water Resour Invest Rep 81–215:1–63Google Scholar
  16. EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) (2001a) Draft environmental impact statement. Mountaintop mining/valley fill coal mining. EPA, Washington, DC, variously paginatedGoogle Scholar
  17. EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) (2001b) Hydrologic effects of artificial valley fills. Appendix R of draft environmental impact statement mountaintop mining/valley fill coal mining. EPA, Washington, DC, 7 ppGoogle Scholar
  18. Friedman, JM, Osterkamp WR, Scott ML, Auble GT (1998) Downstream effects of dams on channel geometry and bottomland vegetation: regional patterns in the Great Plains. Wetlands 18:619–633Google Scholar
  19. Germann U, Joss J (2000) Spatial continuity of Alpine precipitation. Phys Chem Earth (B) 25:903–908Google Scholar
  20. Graf WL (2001) Damage control: restoring the physical integrity of America's rivers. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 91:1–27Google Scholar
  21. Hirsch RM, Scott AG, Wyant T (1982) Investigation of trends in flooding in the Tug Fork Basin of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. USGS Water Suppl Pap 2203:1–37Google Scholar
  22. Krajewksi WF, Smith JA (2002) Radar hydrology: rainfall estimation. Adv Water Resour 25:1387–1394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Larson JD, Powell JD (1986) Hydrology and effects of mining in the upper Russell Fork Basin, Buchanan and Dickenson Counties, Virginia. USGS Water Resour Invest Rep 85–4238:1–63Google Scholar
  24. Lin CY, Chou WC, Lin WT (2002) Modeling the width and placement of riparian vegetated buffer strips: a case study on the Chi-Jia-Wang Stream, Taiwan. J Environ Manage 66:269–280PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. McCuen, RH (1982) A guide to hydrologic analysis using SCS methods. Prentice-Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
  26. National Weather Service (2003) Eastern Kentucky weather events. http://www.crh.noaa.gov/jkl/events/weatherevents.html (last accessed 8/19/03)
  27. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) (2003) Radar information. http://www.crh.noaa.gov/radar/radinfo/radinfo.html#p19-r (last accessed 8/19/03)
  28. NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) (2003) Soil Classification. http://soils.usda.gov/ (last accessed 8/19/03)
  29. Phillips JD (1989a) An evaluation of the factors determining the effectiveness of water quality buffer zones. J Hydrol 107:133–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Phillips JD (1989b) Nonpoint source pollution control effectiveness of riparian forests along a coastal plain river. J Hydrol 110:221–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Phillips JD (1993) Natural and legal shoreline buffers. In: Nordstrom KF, Roman C (eds) Estuarine shorelines. Wiley, New York, pp 449–466Google Scholar
  32. Phillips JD (1996) Wetland buffers and runoff hydrology. In: Mulamootil G, Warner BG, McBean EA (eds) Wetlands: environmental buffers, boundaries, and gradients. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 207–220Google Scholar
  33. Phillips JD (2002a) Spatial structures and scale in categorical maps. Geogr Environ Model 6:41–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Phillips JD (2002b) Geomorphic impacts of flash flooding in a forested headwater basin. J Hydrol 269:236–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Skaggs RS, Khaleel R (1982) Infiltration. In: Haan CT (ed) Hydrologic modeling of small watersheds. American Society of Agricultural Engineers, St. Joseph, pp 119–166Google Scholar
  36. Skelly and Loy, Inc. (1984) Environmental assessment of surface mining methods: head-of-hollow fill and mountaintop removal. US Environmental Protection Agency Rep, Cincinnati, OH (Referenced in EPA 2001b)Google Scholar
  37. Wiley JB, Evaldi RD, Eychaner JH, Chambers DB (2001) Reconnaissance of stream geomorphology, low streamflow, and stream temperature in the mountaintop coal-mining region, southern West Virginia, 1999–2000. USGS Water Resour Invest Rep 01-4092:1–34Google Scholar
  38. Wunsch DR, Dinger JS, Taylor PB, Carey DI, Graham CDR (1996) Hydrogeology, hydrogeochemistry, and spoil settlement at a large mine-spoil area in eastern Kentucky, Star Fire Tract. Kentucky Geol Surv Rep Invest 10Google Scholar
  39. Xiang W-N (1993a) Application of a GIS-based stream buffer generation model to environmental policy evaluation. Environ Manage 17:817–827Google Scholar
  40. Xiang W-N (1993b) A GIS method for riparian water quality buffer generation. Int J Geogr Inf Syst 7:57–70Google Scholar
  41. Xiang W-N (1996) GIS-based riparian buffer analysis: Injecting geographic information into landscape planning. Landscape Urban Plann 34:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography, Tobacco Road Research TeamUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations