Exploring the legacy effects of surface coal mining on stream chemistry
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.
KeywordsWater quality Appalachia Reclamation Stream ecosystems Surface coal mining
- APHA, AWA & WEF, 2005. Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater, 21st edn. American Public Health Association, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
- ASTM Standard D516, 2002. Standard Test Method for Sulfate Ion in Water. ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA. doi:10.1520/D0516-02.
- ASTM Standard D3559, 2008. Standard Test Method for Lead in Water. ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA. doi:10.1520/D3559-08.
- Dodds, W. & M. Whiles, 2010. Freshwater Ecology: Concepts and Environmental Applications of Limnology, 2nd edn. Academic Press, Burlington.Google Scholar
- OEPA, 1996. Biological and water quality study of the Raccoon Creek Basin. OEPA Technical Report Number MAS/1996-12-7.Google Scholar
- OGS, 2008. Environmental Leaflet No. 8: coal. http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Portals/10/pdf/EL/el08.pdf.
- Petty, J. T., J. B. Fulton, M. P. Strager, G. T. Merovich Jr., J. M. Stiles & P. F. Ziemkiewicz, 2010. Landscape indicators and thresholds of stream ecological impairment in an intensively mined Appalachian watershed. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 29: 1292–1309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Pond, G. J., M. E. Passmore, F. A. Borsuk, L. Reynolds & C. J. Rose, 2008. Downstream effects of mountaintop coal mining: comparing biological conditions using family- and genus-level macroinvertebrate bioassessment tools. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 27: 717–737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Singleton, H., 2000. Ambient water quality guidelines for sulphate. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Province of British Columbia, Canada. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wat/wq/BCguidelines/sulphate/sulphate.html.
- USEPA, 2011. The Effects of Mountaintop Mines and Valley Fills on Aquatic Ecosystems of the Central Appalachian Coalfields. Office of Research and Development, National Center for Environmental Assessment, Washington, DC. EPA/600/R-09/138F.Google Scholar