Effects of Abandoned Coal-Mine Drainage on Streamflow and Water Quality in the Mahanoy Creek Basin, Schuylkill, Columbia, and Northumberland Counties, Pennsylvania, 2001

Scientific Investigations Report 2004-5291
Prepared in cooperation with the Schuylkill Conservation District and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection



This report assesses the contaminant loading, effects to receiving streams, and possible remedial alternatives for abandoned mine drainage (AMD) within the Mahanoy Creek Basin in east-central Pennsylvania. The Mahanoy Creek Basin encompasses an area of 157 square miles (407 square kilometers) including approximately 42 square miles (109 square kilometers) underlain by the Western Middle Anthracite Field. As a result of more than 150 years of anthracite mining in the basin, ground water, surface water, and streambed sediments have been adversely affected. Leakage from streams to underground mines and elevated concentrations (above background levels) of acidity, metals, and sulfate in the AMD from flooded underground mines and (or) unreclaimed culm (waste rock) degrade the aquatic ecosystem and impair uses of the main stem of Mahanoy Creek from its headwaters to its mouth on the Susquehanna River. Various tributaries also are affected, including North Mahanoy Creek, Waste House Run, Shenandoah Creek, Zerbe Run, and two unnamed tributaries locally called Big Mine Run and Big Run. The Little Mahanoy Creek and Schwaben Creek are the only major tributaries not affected by mining. To assess the current hydrological and chemical characteristics of the AMD and its effect on receiving streams, and to identify possible remedial alternatives, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began a study in 2001, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Schuylkill Conservation District. Aquatic ecological surveys were conducted by the USGS at five stream sites during low base-flow conditions in October 2001. Twenty species of fish were identified in Schwaben Creek near Red Cross, which drains an unmined area of 22.7 square miles (58.8 square kilometers) in the lower part of the Mahanoy Creek Basin. In contrast, 14 species of fish were identified in Mahanoy Creek near its mouth at Kneass, below Schwaben Creek. The diversity and abundance of fish species in Mahanoy Creek decreased progressively upstream from 13 species at Gowen City to only 2 species each at Ashland and Girardville. White sucker (Catostomus commersoni), a pollution-tolerant species, was present at each of the surveyed reaches. The presence of fish at Girardville was unexpected because of the poor water quality and iron-encrusted streambed at this location. Generally, macroinvertebrate diversity and abundance at these sites were diminished compared to Schwaben Creek and other tributaries draining unmined basins, consistent with the observed quality of streamwater and streambed sediment. Data on the flow rate and chemistry for 35 AMD sources and 31 stream sites throughout the Mahanoy Creek Basin were collected by the USGS during high base-flow conditions in March 2001 and low base-flow conditions in August 2001. A majority of the base-flow streamwater samples met water-quality standards for pH (6.0 to 9.0); however, few samples downstream from AMD sources met criteria for acidity less than alkalinity (net alkalinity = 20 milligrams per liter as CaCO3) and concentrations of dissolved iron (0.3 milligram per liter) and total manganese (1.0 milligram per liter). Iron, aluminum, and various trace elements including cobalt, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc, were present in many streamwater samples at concentrations at which continuous exposure can not be tolerated by aquatic organisms without an unacceptable effect. Furthermore, concentrations of sulfate, iron, manganese, aluminum, and (or) beryllium in some samples exceeded drinking-water standards. Other trace elements, including antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, selenium, silver, and thallium, did not exceed water-quality criteria for protection of aquatic organisms or human health. Nevertheless, when considered together, concentrations of iron, manganese, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc in a majority of the streambed sediment samples from Mahanoy Creek and

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Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Effects of Abandoned Coal-Mine Drainage on Streamflow and Water Quality in the Mahanoy Creek Basin, Schuylkill, Columbia, and Northumberland Counties, Pennsylvania, 2001
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2004-5291
DOI 10.3133/sir20045291
Year Published 2004
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) Pennsylvania Water Science Center
Description Available online and on CD-ROM; Report: vi, 60 p.
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