Stream flow, chemical and biological data for the northern part of Swatara Creek, which drains a 112 km2 area in the Southern Anthracite Field of eastern Pennsylvania, indicate progressive improvement in water quality since 1959, after which most mines in the watershed had been flooded. Drainage from the flooded mines contributes substantially to base flow in Swatara Creek. Beginning in 1995, a variety of treatment systems and surface reclamation were implemented at some of the abandoned mines. At Ravine, Pa., immediately downstream of the mined area, median SO4 concentration declined from about 150 mg l-1 in 1959 to 75 mg l-1 in 1999 while pH increased from acidic to near-neutral values (medians: c. pH 4 before 1975; c. pH 6 after 1975). Fish populations rebounded from non-existent during 1959-1990 to 21 species identified in 1999. Nevertheless, recent monitoring indicates (1) episodic acidification and elevated concentrations and transport of Fe, Al, Mn, and trace metals during storm flow; (2) elevated concentrations of Fe, Mn, Co, Cu, Pb, Ni, and Zn in streambed sediments relative to unmined areas and to toxicity guidelines for aquatic invertebrates and fish; and (3) elevated concentrations of metals in fish tissue, notably Zn. The metals are ubiquitous in the fine fraction (<0.063 mm) of bed sediment in mining-affected tributaries and the main stem of Swatara Creek. As a result of scour and transport of streambed deposits, concentrations of suspended solids and total metals in the water column are correlated, and those for storm flow typically exceed base flow. Nevertheless, the metals concentrations are poorly correlated with stream flow because concentrations of suspended solids and total metals typically peak prior to peak stream stage. In contrast, SO4, specific conductance and pH are inversely correlated with stream flow as a result of dilution of poorly buffered stream water with weakly acidic storm runoff derived mainly from low-pH rainfall. Declines in pH to values approaching 5.0 during storm flow events or declines in redox potential during burial of sediment could result in the remobilization of metals associated with suspended solids and streambed deposits.
Additional publication details
Water-quality trends for a stream draining the Southern Anthracite Field, Pennsylvania