Lone Mountain NRDAR Acid Mine Drainage Restoration

Background information.—The Powell River watershed has a long history of coal mining. Prior to August 3, 1977, Virginia laws and regulations required the reclamation of areas affected by coal surface mining, but there were no regulations addressing reclamation of underground mines. Flows or seeps from these abandoned mines have long degraded the waters of the Powell River watershed (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2008). Water that is discharged from these sites can be highly acidic and it commonly contains high concentrations of dissolved iron and aluminum sulfates. This acid mine drainage degrades the water quality of streams and water supplies and is a major contributor to aquatic habitat degradation. Led by the Virginia Department ... Show More

Background information.—The Powell River watershed has a long history of coal mining. Prior to August 3, 1977, Virginia laws and regulations required the reclamation of areas affected by coal surface mining, but there were no regulations addressing reclamation of underground mines. Flows or seeps from these abandoned mines have long degraded the waters of the Powell River watershed (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2008). Water that is discharged from these sites can be highly acidic and it commonly contains high concentrations of dissolved iron and aluminum sulfates. This acid mine drainage degrades the water quality of streams and water supplies and is a major contributor to aquatic habitat degradation.

Led by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), there has been a growing partnership between State, Federal, and local agencies to abate acid mine drainage in the watershed. Using funds from the Lone Mountain Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlement, the DMME, Lee County, the Daniel Boone Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Upper Tennessee River Roundtable partnered to implement three acid mine drainage abatement projects to support improved water quality and aquatic habitat in the region injured by the Lone Mountain coal slurry spill. The acid mine drainage abatement projects are located along Ely Creek on lands owned by Lee County.

Acid mine drainage is produced when the oxygen in water reacts with iron sulfide materials that are found in most coal deposits. Resulting pollutants include iron sulfates, sulfuric acid, iron hydroxides, and ferric, aluminum and manganese salts. When dissolved in water at critical concentrations, these pollutants become toxic to fish, invertebrates, and aquatic plant life (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2008). To neutralize acid mine drainage at the three project sites, passive limestone treatment systems were built to raise the pH of the acid mine drainage. Treatment systems at each site were uniquely designed for the sites and were constructed by a local excavating company. The treatment systems include either open limestone channels or closed limestone drains combined with polishing ponds. The pH of the acid mine drainage is neutralized as it passes through the limestone channels or drains, then the water is further neutralized and heavy metals are precipitated in the polishing ponds. The improved water is then discharged into Ely Creek.
The acid mine drainage abatement projects implemented on Ely Creek are a substantiated success. Downstream of the three projects, the water from Ely Creek merges with Stone Creek. In 2002, the 3-mile stretch of Stone Creek directly below this confluence was listed as impaired because it failed to support the general standard for aquatic life. The upstream Ely Creek acid mine drainage abatement projects were implemented in 2011. By 2014, biological sampling indicated that the downstream Stone Creek segment was fully supporting aquatic life, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality officially delisted Stone Creek from Virginia’s Section 303(d) list of impaired waters under the Clean Water Act (O’Quinn, 2014).
Background information on acid mine drainage abatement for the Lone Mountain Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) settlement was obtained from Richard Davis, Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, written commun., 2015; and from Lone Mountain NRDAR case documents at http://www.cerc.usgs.gov/orda_docs/CaseDetails?ID=914.
 
Economic impacts.—The three Ely Creek acid mine drainage abatement projects were designed in 2010 and completed in 2011, with a combined project cost of $465,000 (2014 dollars). More than 60 percent of these funds directly supported local businesses. Including secondary effects, these projects supported an estimated 2.3 total job-years; $118,000 in labor income; $175,000 in value added; and $427,000 in economic output in the local economy. Expanding to include both local and nonlocal expenditures, this project supported an estimated 7.1 total job-years; $455,000 in labor income; $655,000 in value added; and $1,236,000 in economic output in the national economy.

References Cited

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service, 2008, Final plan and environmental assessment, North Fork Powell River Watershed: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 193 p., accessed May 13, 2015 at https://www.dmme.virginia.gov/DMLR/pdf/North%20Fork%20Powell%20combined%20document%204_09.pdf.

O’Quinn, J., 2014, Total maximum load (TMDL): in Virginia Department of Minerals and Energy Division of Mined Land Reclamation, Water Quality Section News Letter, November 2014 Issue, accessed May 7, 2015, at https://www.dmme.virginia.gov/DMLR/pdf/WaterQualityNewsLetters/2014/GinCreekNewsletter11_14.pdf.
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Contact(s): Catherine M Cullinane Thomas, Christopher C Huber.

Overview

Project Period: 2010-2011

Location: Virginia

Restoration Type: Acid mine drainage abatement

Lead Agency: Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy

Economic Impacts
National Economic Impacts (2014 dollars):

Total Project Expenditures: $465,000


Job-Years: 7.1 (15.3 per $1M)

Labor Income: $455,000 ($978K per $1M)

Value Added: $655,000 ($1.4M per $1M)

Economic Output: $1,236,000 ($2.7M per $1M)

Local Economic Impacts (2014 dollars):

Local Project Expenditures: $290,000

Percent of Project Expenditures Spent Locally: 62%

Local Job-Years: 2.3

Local Labor Income: $118,000

Local Value Added: $175,000

Local Economic Output: $427,000

Big Picture
Main Project: Lone Mountain NRDAR Settlement in the Powell River Watershed

In October 1996, a coal slurry impoundment associated with a coal processing plant owned by Lone Mountain Processing, Inc., in Lee County, Virginia, failed and released six million gallons of coal slurry into the Powell River watershed. “Blackwater,” a mixture of water, coal fines, clay, and associated contaminants, extended more than 20 miles downstream from the spill site. The Powell River watershed is part of the Upper Tennessee River Basin, which comprises one of the nation’s most biologically diverse aquatic ecosystems (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003). The coal slurry spill affected fish, endangered freshwater mussels, other stream organisms, and supporting aquatic habitat, including designated critical habitat for two Federally ... Show More

In October 1996, a coal slurry impoundment associated with a coal processing plant owned by Lone Mountain Processing, Inc., in Lee County, Virginia, failed and released six million gallons of coal slurry into the Powell River watershed. “Blackwater,” a mixture of water, coal fines, clay, and associated contaminants, extended more than 20 miles downstream from the spill site. The Powell River watershed is part of the Upper Tennessee River Basin, which comprises one of the nation’s most biologically diverse aquatic ecosystems (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003). The coal slurry spill affected fish, endangered freshwater mussels, other stream organisms, and supporting aquatic habitat, including designated critical habitat for two Federally listed fish—the yellowfin madtom ( Noturus flavipinnis) and the slender chub ( Erimystax cahni). A Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) settlement required that Lone Mountain Processing, Inc., pay $2,450,000 in damages for the natural resource injuries caused by the slurry spill to restore fish, mussels, and the habitats that support them. As part of this settlement, more than 500 acres of riparian land in southwestern Virginia have been preserved in partnership with The Nature Conservancy to protect habitat for aquatic organisms and other species, such as bats and songbirds.
This case study tells the story of five restoration projects in the Upper Tennessee River Basin that were supported by the Lone Mountain NRDAR settlement and the economic activity generated through expenditures on these projects. The highlighted restoration projects include: two mussel and fish propagation and reintroduction projects that are working to replace freshwater mussels and fish species killed during the spill, two instream and riparian restoration projects designed to provide fish and mussel habitat and to provide recreation and education opportunities in Lee County, and one acid mine drainage abatement project designed to improve water quality in the watershed. Figure 1-1 shows a map of the spill site and the five highlighted restoration projects. The U.S. Geological Survey collected data on restoration activities and expenditures to estimate the economic activity supported by these restoration projects.
Background information on the Lone Mountain NRDAR settlement was obtained from Anne Condon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Virginia Field Office, written commun., 2015; and from Lone Mountain NRDAR case documents at http://www.cerc.usgs.gov/orda_docs/CaseDetails?ID=914. Show Less

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Map
Images
Open Limestone Channel.jpg
Successive Alkalinity Producing System Polishing Pond.jpg
Acid Mine Drainage in Ely Creek Before Restoration.jpg
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