A study of coal ponds formed by strip mining in eastern Oklahoma included 25 ponds formed by strip mining from the Croweburg, McAlester, and Iron Post coal seams and 6 noncoal-mine ponds in the coal-mining area. Water-quality samples were collected in the spring and summer of 1985 to determine the suitability of the ponds for public water supply, aquatic life, waterfowl habitat, livestock watering, irrigation, and recreation. The rationale for water-quality criteria and the criteria used for each proposed use are discussed. The ponds were grouped by the coal seam mined or as noncoal-mine ponds, and the number of ponds from each group containing water that exceeded a given criterion is noted.
Water in many of the ponds can be used for public water supplies if other sources are not available. Water in most of these ponds exceeds one or more secondary standards, but meets all primary standards. Water samples from the epilimnion (shallow strata as determined by temperature) of six ponds exceeded one or more primary standards, which are criteria protective of human health. Water samples from five of eight Iron Post ponds exceeded the selenium criterion. Water samples from all 31 ponds exceeded one or more secondary standards, which are for the protection of human welfare. The criteria most often exceeded were iron, manganese, dissolved solids, and sulfate, which are secondary standards. The criteria for iron and manganese were exceeded more frequently in the noncoal-mine ponds, whereas ponds formed by strip mining were more likely to exceed the criteria for dissolved solids and sulfate.
The ponds are marginally suited for aquatic life. Water samples from the epilimnion of 18 ponds exceeded criteria protective of aquatic life. The criteria for mercury and iron were exceeded most often. Little difference was detected between mine ponds and noncoal-mine ponds. Dissolved oxygen concentrations in the hypolimnion (deepest strata) of all the ponds were less than the minimum criterion during the summer. This decreases available fish habitat and affects the type and number of benthic invertebrates.
The ponds are generally well suited for use by wintering and migrating waterfowl. Thirteen of the ponds contained water that exceeded the pH, alkalinity, and selenium criteria. The noncoal-mine ponds had the largest percentage of ponds exceeding pH and alkalinity criteria. Water samples from five of eight Iron Post ponds exceeded the selenium criterion. All ponds are generally unsuitable as waterfowl habitat during the summer because of high temperatures and low dissolved oxygen.
Most of the ponds are well suited for livestock watering. Water samples from the epilimnion of 29 ponds met all chemical and physical criteria. Water samples from five ponds exceeded the criteria in the hypolimnion. Mine ponds exceeded chemical and physical criteria more often than noncoal-mine ponds. All the ponds contained phytoplankton species potentially toxic to livestock.
Water from most of the ponds is marginally suitable for irrigation of sensitive crops, but is more suitable for irrigation of semitolerant and tolerant crops. Most major cash crops grown in eastern Oklahoma are semitolerant and tolerant crops. Water from the epilimnion of 14 ponds was suitable for irrigation under almost all conditions. Water from the epilimnion of 20 ponds was suitable for irrigation of semitolerant crops, and water from the epilimnion of 25 ponds is suitable for irrigation of tolerant crops. The dissolved solids criterion was exceeded the most often.
Most of the ponds would not be suitable for swimming. The pH criterion was exceeded in 17 ponds and turbidity restricts visibility needed for diving in 23 ponds. Little difference was detected between mine ponds and noncoal-mine ponds. Many of the ponds formed by strip mining have steep banks that may be dangerous to swimmers.