Virginia Tech Research Studies Impacts of Coal Mining on Water Resources

The Virginia Water Resources Research Center at Virginia Tech has embarked on two new research projects in headwater streams affected by coal mining in southwestern Virginia. As the federal government announces new plans to protect water resources, these research efforts are aimed to provide objective scientific information to policy makers and to those involved in the debate surrounding mountaintop removal and other forms of coal mining.

“With so much at stake, there is a pressing need to base policy decisions on sound science, including an improved understanding of the impacts of mountaintop-removal mining on water resources,” said Stephen Schoenholtz, director, Virginia Water Resources Research Center at Virginia Tech. “This is why this research is so important.”

One project, funded by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and the Powell River Project, is evaluating measurements of hydrological and ecological functions in streams undergoing restoration activities following coal-mining impacts. Efforts to restore stream structure and function following coal mining are relatively recent (mostly within the past five years). Many questions have been raised as to effectiveness of these practices, but little research has been conducted in effort to answer them.

A second project, funded by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, and Virginia Tech’s Powell River Project, is investigating associations between total dissolved solids (TDS) and aquatic benthic macroinvertebrates (insects and other organisms that live on stream bottoms). High levels of TDS are often found in stream water originating from areas exposed to coal mining, and benthic macroinvertebrates are a key indicator of stream health.


Salazar Announces Guidelines to Protect Endangered Indiana Bat

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the availability of coal mining guidelines developed to conserve and protect the endangered Indiana bat. The bat’s habitat stretches from the eastern United States through the Midwest, including 13 states with coal mining operations.

“These guidelines provide coal mining companies a set of consistent and reasonable protective measures they can use when their proposed operations could impact the Indiana bat and its critical habitat,” Salazar said. “This technical guidance was developed through extensive state and federal collaboration and will assist companies in complying with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.”

A team representing three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regions and state coal mining regulatory programs, facilitated by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, developed the guidelines to provide habitat protection and avoidance measures for the Indiana bat. State participation on the team and peer review of the guidelines were coordinated by the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, a multi-state organization representing the natural resource interests of its member states. For more information, visit


Maryland Issues Permit for New Underground Mine

According to The Associated Press, the Maryland Department of Environment has issued a permit for a new underground coal mine that would tunnel beneath the Casselman River in Garrett County. Jay Apperson, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Environment, said that the permit has been issued to Maryland Energy Resources LLC, a company controlled by the Joseph Peles Coal Co. of Indiana. He said that Joseph Peles Coal must post a bond of $25,000 for each drinking water well it approaches. That's in addition to a $205,000 general performance bond. The mine would extract an estimated 360,000 tons of coal annually for 20 years from deposits beneath about 3,000 acres south of Grantsville. It would be Maryland’s largest working deep mine.