Potential effects of surface coal mining on the hydrology of the Cook Creek area, Ashland coal field, southeastern Montana

Open-File Report 82-681




The Cook Creek area of the Ashland coal field contains large reserves of Federally owned coal that have been identified for potential lease sale. A hydrologic study has been conducted in the potential lease area to describe existing hydrologic systems and to assess potential impacts of surface coal mining on local water resources. Hydrogeologic data collected from wells, springs, and drill holes indicate that shallow aquifers exist within the Tongue River Member of the Fort Union Formation (Paleocene age) and within valley alluvium (Pleistocene and Holocene age). Shallow aquifers within the Tonge River Member include coal beds, clinker, and lenses of sandstone and siltstone. The Knobloch coal bed, a principal shallow aquifer used for livestock watering in the area, averages about 55 feet in thickness and is completely saturated throughout most of its extent. Coarse alluvial deposits are the most productive aquifers and are a major source of stock water in the Cook Creek basin. Surface-water resources are limited to the upstream reach part of Cook Creek, which flows intermittently. The downstream reach part of Cook Creek, plus all other small drainages that originate in the study area, are ephemeral. Mining of the Knoblock and Sawyer coal beds would remove two alluvial springs, one bedrock spring, and two wells, which are all used for watering of livestock. The potentiometric surface within the Knobloch coal aquifer and the alluvial aquifer in the downstream part of the Cook Creek basin would be lowered during mining. Lowered water levels in these aquifers might substantially affect water levels in five wells outside the mine boundary. After mining, the alluvial aquifer downgradient from the mine area might show a long-term degradation in water quality as a result of leaching of soluble salts from overburden materials used to backfill mine pits. Although mining would alter the existing hydrologic systems and remove several springs and shallow wells, alternative ground-water supplies are available that could be developed to replace those lost by mining. (USGS)

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Potential effects of surface coal mining on the hydrology of the Cook Creek area, Ashland coal field, southeastern Montana
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey,
34 p., 2 over-size sheets, ill., maps ;28 cm.