Mining on the Watershed
Disruption of groundwater/surface water interactions, by blasting,
excavation, and valley fills, can pollute or dry up wells -- sometimes many miles from
a mining site.
Destruction of vegetation and topsoil prevents the absorption and
retention of rainfall, resulting in flooding. Whether reclamation corrects
this is undecided.
Valley fills and the burying of ephemeral and intermittent streams prevents retention of rainfall,
and can result in flooding.
flash flooding results in changes to the stream shape or channel and
flow, contributing to increased flooding.
Production of sediment and silt which can smother aquatic habitats and life,
and fill up reservoirs reducing their capacities and increasing
storm runoff and floods. And last but not least, sediment increases the difficulty and cost of treating drinking water.
Increases in conductivity, alkalinity, hardness, sulfate and selenium
concentrations downstream from MTR operations. Selenium is highly
toxic to aquatic life at low concentrations.
Aquatic life forms downstream from mining operations and valley fills can be harmed or
and the Stream Buffer Zone Rule
Under the 1977 Surface
Mining Control and Reclamation
Act, the Buffer Zone Rule prohibits mining within 100 feet of intermittent or
perennial streams. Insisting the rule was never meant to prevent the dumping of millions of
tons of waste rock from mining operations into headwater streams, the Federal Office of Surface
Mining has proposed a regulatory change to clarify the rule. A 1998 federal district court
ruling upheld the clear meaning of the rule, but was returned to the state courts on
jurisdictional ground by the Fourth Circuit Court
of Appeals. The Office of Surface Mining is currently conducting an environmental review
of the proposed change. Permitting continues for the burying of hundreds more miles of
ecologically rich streams.
Creek Sludge Spill -- A "Secret" of Gargantuan Proportions
On October 11, 2000, three hundred million gallons of coal sludge broke through a coal slurry
impoundment at Kentucky s largest mountaintop removal site (The Exxon
Valdez spill was only 11 million gallons). The black
slurry poured into Coldwater and Wolf Creeks and traveled 100 miles,
reaching the Ohio
River, closing down community water supplies and devastating aquatic
life. The impoundment,
abandoned underground mines,
contained two billion gallons of sludge. Regulatory agencies had rated the pond
risk for failure. Two weeks after the spill the water still ran black downstream from the areas most affected. Illegal
roadblocks, presumed to have been staffed by coal company employees,
kept the public from getting close to the worst areas. What some have
described as the largest environmental disaster in US history was
hardly reported in the media. There are hundreds of similar sludge ponds
across Appalachia at mountaintop removal and other coal mining sites.
Status of Kentucky Waters
All Kentucky waters are under advisory for excessive quantities
of mercury. Women of
childbearing age and children 6 years of age or younger are warned not
to eat more than one meal per week of freshwater fish. About 30%
of environmental mercury contamination comes from coal-burning power plants.
Silt or sediment from "resource extraction" accounts for 22% of impaired stream sites
in the Kentucky watershed. In the Cumberland it's 34%.
Selenium concentrations downstream from Appalachian mountaintop
removal valley fills
exceeded water quality standards in 13 of 15 sites studied for an EPA
Contributions of surface mining and mountaintop removal to the
quality of water in the Kentucky River watershed continue unabated.
Swimming advisories have been in place for several
years. Down from 80% of Kentucky waters a few years ago, several
of the state's rivers remain unsafe
for swimming because of high levels of fecal
coliform bacteria. (Unsafe waters include parts of the Upper
Cumberland River, North Fork of Kentucky, Lower Licking River)
EPA Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, Mountaintop Mining/Valley
Fills in Appalachia
of Environmental Protection, Division of Water, Water Quality Reports
to Congress for 2004
of Environmental Protection, Division of Water, Advisories
EKU Center for Appalachian Studies, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Kentucky River Facts