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Characteristics of Wetland Soils Impacted by Acid Mine Drainage

Stephens, Kyle, Sencindiver, John, Skousen, Jeff
Southeastern naturalist 2015 v.14 no.sp7 pp. 40-57
acid mine drainage, coal, drainage, electrical conductivity, highways, mining, pH, plant communities, railroads, rivers, streams, swamps, vegetation, watersheds, wetland soils, Virginia, West Virginia
A proposed section of Appalachian Corridor H, an interstate highway that begins at I-79 near Weston, WV, and will continue east to I-81 at Strasburg, VA, will pass through an area of the Beaver Creek watershed that was previously mined for the acid-producing Upper Freeport coal. Beaver Creek flows into the Blackwater River after flowing out of Canaan Valley. Partially reclaimed spoils from past mining activities are generating acid mine drainage. Wetlands adjacent to the spoils support plant communities that appear to be naturally treating the drainage. To better understand the chemical and physical functions within the wetlands and to assist the West Virginia Division of Highways in constructing wetlands for mitigating environmental damage, we described the soils of the mine-drainage-impacted wetlands (Narrow Wetland, Iron Pond, and Railroad Grade) and took samples for subsequent laboratory analyses. For comparison, we also described and sampled unimpacted soils in Elder Swamp, which is an adjacent wetland that receives no mine drainage. The impacted wetland soils had thinner organic and mineral horizons and were lower in C and N than unimpacted soils. The electrical conductivity was low for all wetland soils, and pH ranged from 3.2–6.1, with both low and high pH values in impacted and unimpacted soils. These results were reflected in the overall lower quality of vegetation that we noticed in the impacted wetlands.