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Discharge Chemistry From Above-Drainage Underground Mines in 1968 and 2000

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  • The duration of acid mine drainage flowing out of underground mines is important in the design of watershed restoration and abandoned mine land reclamation projects. People conducting land reclamation projects usually employ remediation strategies once (reshaping land, revegetating soils, and installing water treatment) with the hope that these methods will adequately improve water quality for a long time, with little planning for future changes. An understanding of changing acid water conditions from underground mines over time will help in designing efficient and cost-effective treatment methods. Past studies have reported that acid water flows from underground mines for hundreds of years with little change, while others state that poor drainage quality may last only 20 to 40 years. Several factors are important in making a prediction of drainage quality over time, such as inundation or flooding history, coal seam characteristics (primarily sulfur content), residence time of water in the mine, time since mine closure, mining method and amount of coal remaining, collapse of roof and other disturbances within the mine, and subsequent nearby surface mining. More than 150 above-drainage (those not flooded after abandonment) underground mine discharges were located and sampled during 1968 in northern West Virginia, and we revisited 44 of those sites in 2000 and measured water flow, pH, acidity, alkalinity, Fe, Al, and sulfate. All 44 discharges were from mines in the Pittsburgh and Upper Freeport coal seams, and both seams have been extensively mined in this area during the past 70 years. We sampled during the same months (June to October) as were sampled in 1968, and we found no significant difference in flows between 1968 and 2000. Therefore, we felt that the water quality data could be compared and that the data represented real changes in pollutant concentrations. There were significant water quality differences between year and coal seam, but no differences between disturbed and undisturbed mines. Average acidity declined 79 per cent between 1968 and 2000 in Pittsburgh mines (from 3342 to 702 mg/L), and 56 per cent in Upper Freeport mines (from 1189 to 519 mg/L). Iron decreased an average of about 80 per cent across all sites (from an average of 345 to 69 mg/L), while sulfate decreased between 50 to 75 per cent. Pittsburgh seam discharge water was much worse in 1968 than Upper Freeport seam water. Twenty of our 44 sites had water quality information during 1980, which served as a midpoint to assess the slope of the decline in acidity and metal concentrations. Almost all parameters showed an exponential rate of decline in acidity, iron, and sulfate.

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