Creating a More Perennial Problem? Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Enhances and Sustains Saline Baseflows of Appalachian Watersheds.
Mountaintop removal coal mining (MTM) is a form of surface mining where ridges and mountain tops are removed with explosives to access underlying coal seams. The crushed rock material is subsequently deposited in headwater valley fills (VF). We examined how this added water storage potential affects streamflow using a paired watershed approach consisting of two sets of mined and unmined watersheds in West Virginia. The mined watersheds exported 7-11% more water than the reference watersheds, primarily due to higher and more sustained baseflows. The mined watersheds exported only ~1/3 of their streamflow during storms, while the reference watersheds exported ~2/3 of their annual water yield during runoff events. Mined watersheds with valley fills appear to store precipitation for considerable periods of time and steadily export this alkaline and saline water even during the dry periods of the year. As a result, MTMVFs in a mixed mined/unmined watershed contributed disproportionately to streamflow during baseflow periods (up to >90% of flow). Because MTMVFs have both elevated summer baseflows and continuously high concentrations of total dissolved solids, their regional impact on water quantity and quality will be most extreme and most widespread during low flow periods.
Nippgen, F; Ross, MRV; Bernhardt, ES; McGlynn, BL
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