Mining and water interact, as with any land disturbance. The effects depend on the location of the mine; the hydrology and climate of an area; and the physical and chemical properties of the coal, associated strata, and residual materials.
The quality and quantity of surface water and groundwater can be protected both within a mine and in the surrounding areas, if modern mining techniques and procedures are followed. Unfortunately, in the past, many sites were abandoned with inadequate reclamation measures, leaving a legacy of contaminated drainage and water pollution.
However, today’s mitigation technologies offer solutions to past problems caused by out-of-date mining practices.
Protecting our water
The protection of the environment is addressed under many different statutory and regulatory schemes designed to eliminate, minimize and/or mitigate impacts to the environment. Since the passage of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972 and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977, protection of the environment has been accorded its proper priority as it relates to all mining.
The need for these laws became evident when scientific and public knowledge reached a realization of how human activities can negatively affect the environment we live in if proper mitigation actions are not taken. At the same time, Congress recognized that a balance is both necessary and achievable so that environmental protection still allows for mineral development and other industrialization through the benefits of an inexpensive and plentiful energy base.
The impact on water quality is an important part of the search for a balance between coal mine development and environmental sustainability. A key component of today’s mine planning and feasibility determination is predicting the post-mining, post-reclamation water quality and designing mitigation plans, if needed.