Effects of coal-mine discharges on the quality of the Stonycreek River and its tributaries, Somerset and Cambria counties, Pennsylvania

Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4133

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This report describes the results of a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, done in cooperation with the Somerset Conservation District, to locate and sample abandoned coal-mine discharges in the Stonycreek River Basin, to prioritize the mine discharges for remediation, and to determine the effects of the mine discharges on water quality of the Stonycreek River and its major tributaries. From October 1991 through November 1994, 270 abandoned coal-mine discharges were located and sampled. Discharges from 193 mines exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effluent standards for pH, discharges from 122 mines exceeded effluent standards for total-iron concentration, and discharges from 141 mines exceeded effluent standards for total-manganese concentration. Discharges from 94 mines exceeded effluent standards for all three constituents. Only 40 mine discharges met effluent standards for pH and concentrations of total iron and total manganese. A prioritization index (PI) was developed to rank the mine discharges with respect to their loading capacity on the receiving stream. The PI lists the most severe mine discharges in a descending order for the Stonycreek River Basin and for subbasins that include the Shade Creek, Paint Creek, Wells Creek, Quemahoning Creek, Oven Run, and Pokeytown Run Basins. Passive-treatment systems that include aerobic wetlands, compost wetlands, and anoxic limestone drains (ALD's) are planned to remediate the abandoned mine discharges. The successive alkalinity-producing-system treatment combines ALD technology with the sulfate reduction mechanism of the compost wetland to effectively remediate mine discharge. The water quality and flow of each mine discharge will determine which treatment system or combination of treatment systems would be necessary for remediation. A network of 37 surface-water sampling sites was established to determine stream-water quality during base flow. A series of illustrations show how water quality in the mainstem deteriorates downstream because of inflows from tributaries affected by acidic mine discharges. From the upstream mainstem site (site 801) to the outflow mainstem site (site 805), pH decreased from 6.8 to 4.2, alkalinity was completely depleted by inflow acidities, and total-iron discharges increased from 30 to 684 pounds per day. Total-manganese and total-sulfate discharges increased because neither constituent precipitates readily. Also, discharges of manganese and sulfate entering the mainstem from tributary streams have a cumulative effect. Oven Run and Pokeytown Run are two small tributary streams significantly affected by acidic mine drainage (AMD) that flow into the Stonycreek River near the town of Hooversville. The Pokeytown Run inflow is about 0.5 mile downstream from the Oven Run inflow. These two streams are the first major source of AMD flowing into the Stonycreek River. Data collected on the Stonycreek River above the Oven Run inflow and below the Pokeytown Run inflow show a decrease in pH from 7.6 to 5.1, a decrease in alkalinity concentration from 42 to 2 milligrams per liter, an increase in total sulfate discharge from 18 to 41 tons per day, and an increase in total iron discharge from 29 to 1,770 pounds per day. Data collected at three mainstem sites on the Stonycreek River below Oven Run and Pokeytown Run show a progressive deterioration in river water quality from AMD. Shade Creek and Paint Creek are other tributary streams to the Stonycreek River that have a significant negative effect on water quality of the Stonycreek River. One third of the abandoned-mine discharges sampled were in the Shade Creek and Paint Creek Basins.

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USGS Numbered Series
Effects of coal-mine discharges on the quality of the Stonycreek River and its tributaries, Somerset and Cambria counties, Pennsylvania
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Pennsylvania Water Science Center
vi, 95 p. :ill., maps (some col.) ;28 cm.
United States