Exploring the legacy effects of surface coal mining on stream chemistry
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Surface coal mining results in dramatic alterations of the landscape in central Appalachia, leading to a myriad of environmental problems. In this study, we explore the long-term effects of surface coal mining on stream chemistry and endeavor to gain a better understanding of the efficacy of reclamation. We examined 30 sites in the Raccoon Creek watershed in southeastern Ohio, where the majority of surface mine sites are in various stages of reclamation. Our results show that conductivity (r = 0.862; P = 0.000), sulfate (r = 0.619; P = 0.000), and aluminum (r = 0.469; P = 0.009) levels increase linearly as a function of the areal extent of reclaimed mines in each subwatershed, suggesting limited success of reclamation to restore natural stream chemistry. In contrast, pH was not significantly linearly correlated with the areal extent of surface mines. This suggests that local acid mine drainage remediation projects are able to regulate acidity levels in the watershed but not conductivity and certain heavy metal concentrations. Many sites had conductivity levels high enough to impair aquatic biota via ionic and osmoregulatory stress. In sum, surface coal mining appears to have a strong legacy effect on stream chemistry in the Raccoon Creek watershed.