Mined-Out Areas as Sources of Water

Conservative estimates indicate that water from abandoned underground coal mines could provide water for a population of millions. Generalized areas of underground mining have been compiled for several important coal beds as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Coal Assessment Program. Two of the six beds that have been mapped in eastern Kentucky represent 160 billion gallons of potential water storage. Initial studies of abandoned underground coal mines in Johnson, Martin, Knott, and Letcher Counties show that there are favorable sites, but they need to be proved.

Although preliminary investigations have apparently confirmed the value of this resource at several locations, the feasibility of using abandoned underground coal mines as municipal water supplies throughout Appalachia needs further study. Underground mines that have potential for development as water supplies, and are also near population centers with the greatest water demands, must be identified. The following questions need to be addressed for the region:

• Are underground mines a viable source for major water supplies?

• What water-quality problems may inhibit use of mine water (such as poor quality or abrupt changes in quality)?

• What are the challenging issues for existing water supplies that currently use mine water?

• What difficulties might inhibit an accurate determination of water-supply conditions in underground mines?

• Can hydrogeologic data and mine information obtained from existing mines be extrapolated to untested sites?

• What impacts will future land uses, including mining, have on the water supply?

A map showing mined-out areas of selected beds in the county in is included in this report.

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