Abandoned mine drainage in the Swatara Creek Basin, southern anthracite coalfield, Pennsylvania, USA: 1. stream quality trends coinciding with the return of fish

Mine Water and the Environment
By: , and 

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Abstract

Acidic mine drainage (AMD) from legacy anthracite mines has contaminated Swatara Creek in eastern Pennsylvania. Intermittently collected base-flow data for 1959–1986 indicate that fish were absent immediately downstream from the mined area where pH ranged from 3.5 to 7.2 and concentrations of sulfate, dissolved iron, and dissolved aluminum were as high as 250, 2.0, and 4.7 mg/L, respectively. However, in the 1990s, fish returned to upper Swatara Creek, coinciding with the implementation of AMD treatment (limestone drains, limestone diversion wells, limestone sand, constructed wetlands) in the watershed. During 1996–2006, as many as 25 species of fish were identified in the reach downstream from the mined area, with base-flow pH from 5.8 to 7.6 and concentrations of sulfate, dissolved iron, and dissolved aluminum as high as 120, 1.2, and 0.43 mg/L, respectively. Several of the fish taxa are intolerant of pollution and low pH, such as river chub (Nocomis icropogon) and longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae). Cold-water species such as brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and warm-water species such as rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris) varied in predominance depending on stream flow and stream temperature. Storm flow data for 1996–2007 indicated pH, alkalinity, and sulfate concentrations decreased as the stream flow and associated storm-runoff component increased, whereas iron and other metal concentrations were poorly correlated with stream flow because of hysteresis effects (greater metal concentrations during rising stage than falling stage). Prior to 1999, pH\5.0 was recorded during several storm events; however, since the implementation of AMD treatments, pH has been maintained near neutral. Flow-adjusted trends for1997–2006 indicated significant increases in calcium; decreases in hydrogen ion, dissolved aluminum, dissolved and total manganese, and total iron; and no change in sulfate or dissolved iron in Swatara Creek immediately downstream from the mined area. The increased pH and calcium from limestone in treatment systems can be important for mitigating toxic effects of dissolved metals. Thus, treatment of AMD during the 1990s improved pH buffering, reduced metals transport, and helped to decrease metals toxicity to fish.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Abandoned mine drainage in the Swatara Creek Basin, southern anthracite coalfield, Pennsylvania, USA: 1. stream quality trends coinciding with the return of fish
Series title Mine Water and the Environment
DOI 10.1007/s10230-010-0112-6
Volume 29
Issue 3
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Pennsylvania Water Science Center
Description 24 p.
First page 176
Last page 199
Country United States
State Pennsylvania
Other Geospatial Swatara Creek basin
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N