Hydraulic Characteristics of, and Ground-Water Flow in, Coal-Bearing Rocks of Southwestern Virginia

U.S. Geological Survey, Water Supply Paper 2388

by George E. Harlow, Jr. and Gary D. Lecain

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This report presents the results of a study by the U.S Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, Division of Mined Land Reclamation, and the Powell River Project, to describe the hydraulic characteristics of major water-bearing zones in the coal-bearing rocks of southwestern Virginia and to develop a conceptual model of the ground-water-flow system. Aquifer testing in1987 and 1988 of 9-ft intervals in coal-exploration coreholes indicates that transmissivity decreases with increasing depth. Most rock types are permeable to a depth of approximately 100 ft; however, only coal seams are consistently permeable (transmissivity greater than 0.001 ft/d) at depths greater than 200 ft . Constant-head injection testing of rock intervals adjacent to coal seams usually indicated lower values of transmissivity than those values obtained when coal seams were isolated within the test interval; thus, large values of horizontal hydraulic conductivity at depth are associated with coal seams.

Potentiometric-head measurements indicate that high topographic areas (ridges) function as recharge areas; water infiltrates through the surface, percolates into regolith, and flows downward and laterally through fractures in the shallow bedrock. Hydraulic conductivity decreases with increasing depth, and ground water flows primarily in the lateral direction along fractures or bedding planes or through coal seams. If vertical hydraulic conductivity is negligible, ground water continues to flow laterally, discharging as springs or seeps on hill slopes. Where vertical hydraulic conductivity is appreciable, groundwater follows a stair step path through the regolith, fractures, bedding planes, and coal seams, discharging to streams and (or) recharging coal seams at depth.

Permeable coal seams probably underlie valleys in the region; however, aquifer-test data indicate that the horizontal hydraulic conductivity of coal is a function of depth and probably decreases under ridges because of increased overburden pressures. Ground water beneath valleys that does not discharge to streams probably flows down gradient as underflow beneath the streams. Topographic relief in the area provides large hydraulic-head differences (greater than 300 ft in some instances) for the ground-water-flow system. Transmissivity data from the range of depths tested during this study indicate that most ground-water flow takes place at moderate depths (less than 300 ft) and that little deep regional ground-water flow occurs.

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