Surface mining is a common method of resource extraction in the coal fields of eastern Kentucky. Also common in this region are headwater streams, which can account for 60-80% of the cumulative stream length in such mountainous regions. Headwater streams are critical ecosystem components as they receive and mediate surface runoff, support large populations of macroinvertebrates, and cycle and transport water, sediments, nutrients, and organic matter. My extension and research efforts focus on methods to minimize the impacts of surface mining on headwater ecosystems and to reestablish watershed functions.
Many economic, environmental, and ecological challenges have resulted from natural resource extraction (coal, gas, timber) activities in the Appalachian region. Flooding and poor water quality, loss of forest habitat and associated biota, and a devaluation of the land base are but a few of the problems facing the region. The Appalachian area is historically poor, and the successful reestablishment of a highly diverse mixed-mesophytic forest ecosystem that once dominated natural resource extraction sites will provide a renewable and sustainable multi-use resource that will create economic opportunities while enhancing local and global environmental conditions. The University of Kentucky is a leader in developing and researching successful techniques for reclaiming new mining operations as well as those previously mined and unsuitably reclaimed for forest production. My research efforts focus on the hydrologic and water quality aspects of reforestation.
Collaborators include Dr. Christopher Barton (University of Kentucky, Forestry and Appalachian Center), Dr. Richard Warner (UK Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering), and numerous other faculty, staff, and students.
Eastern Kentucky Coalfields Regional Curves
Bankfull regional curves, which relate bankfull channel dimensions (e.g. area, width, depth, discharge) to drainage area, as well as hydraulic geometry curves that use bankfull discharge as the independent variable are useful tools for assisting in the correct identification of bankfull. Regional curves are particularly helpful when assessing incised stream systems where lack of good bankfull indicators is a common and problematic occurrence. To obtain the necessary information to develop regional and hydraulic geometry curves, data must be acquired from several reference regional streams representing a wide range of drainage areas (and bankfull discharges).
Anthropogenic activities in the Eastern Kentucky Coalfields (EKC), such as current and historic mining activities and expansion of the Mountain Parkway, has resulted in a need for stream mitigation in the region. The goal of such stream restoration projects is to reduce the net loss of streams and their ecosystem services as a result of these anthropogenic impacts.
The purpose of this work was to develop regional and hydraulic geometry curves for the EKC. The specific objectives of the project were to 1) determine bankfull recurrence intervals and develop regional and hydraulic geometry curves for the EKC, 2) develop and compare regional and hydraulic geometry curves for hydrologic landscape regions (HLRs) 9, 11, and 16 in the EKC, and 3) compare these curves to theoretical values and results from other such curves developed in the U.S.
Collaborators include Ashlan Berry (University of Kentucky, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering), Dr. Lindell Orsmbee (University of Kentucky, Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute) and Dr. Richard Warner (University of Kentucky, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering).
Guy Cove Project
Headwater stream systems provide ecosystem services such as water storage, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, habitat creation, and temperature modification. Surface mining often results in the loss of these ecosystem services. The development of practical stream restoration and creation techniques for post-mined lands is needed to regain lost headwater stream system value. In response, the University of Kentucky - in cooperation with a number of agencies such as the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kentucky Division of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources – led the design and construction of a headwater stream system at Guy Cove. The design was largely built on the Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA), which encourages a non-compacted spoil medium to promote tree growth, in an effort to address concerns related to water quantity and quality as well as habitat development.
This watershed-based restoration approach included a headwater stream system comprised of ephemeral, intermittent and perennial channels, vernal ponds, a wetland-bioreactor treatment system, and a forest. The project was constructed in the fall and winter of 2008 with tree planting occurring in the late winter/early spring of 2009. Intensive monitoring was conducted five years post construction.
Collaborators include Dr. Christopher Barton (University of Kentucky, Forestry and Appalachian Center) and Dr. Richard Warner (UK Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering). Numerous students have worked on monitoring and assessing the project.
GIS Delineation of Headwater Streams
A Cumulative Hydrologic Impact Assessment (CHIA) is an analysis of the combined effects of one or more human activities on the environment. While an activity may be independently insignificant, when combined with one or more additional sources, the cumulative impact can result in significant environmental degradation. Such information is needed so that informed decisions can be made with regards to project procession. To conduct these CHIAs, knowledge of the extent of ephemeral, intermittent and perennial streams within a large watershed, such as that of the North Fork of the Kentucky River, is required; however, field reconnaissance alone is not practical due to the large time and expense inputs such an effort would entail. Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in combination with the Water Availability Tool for Environmental Resources (WATER), which was developed by the United States Geological Survey in cooperation with the Kentucky Division of Water offers a means of developing a standardized protocol for using detailed spatial information to delineate stream types in the Appalachian Coalfields Region for use in CHIA development.
Using headwater point-of-origin data collected from Robinson Forest in eastern Kentucky along with data from three jurisdictional determinations obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, headwater streams in the Appalachian Coalfields Region were characterized according to a set of spatial parameters. These characteristics were extrapolated using GIS to delineate headwater streams over a larger area, and the results were compared to the National Hydrography Dataset.
Collaborators include Jonathan Villines (UK Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering), Dr. Richard Warner (University of Kentucky, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering), and Dr. Christopher Barton (University of Kentucky, Forestry and Appalachian Center).
Low Permeability Barrier
Specific conductance and selenium (Se) are two water quality parameters of emerging concern in the Appalachian coalfields. Isolation of high specific conductance and Se producing spoils from environmental water flows using a low permeability barrier is one method of minimizing the leaching of these constituents from coal mine spoils. This project consisted of two phases. The first phase was a laboratory study to assess the potential of using brown weathered sandstone and/or gray weathered sandstone to create a low permeability barrier. The second phased focused on evaluating the performance of a low permeability barrier constructed in the field.
Collaborators include Mariana da Rosa (Federal University of Viçosa, Agricultural Engineering), Sara Smith (University of Kentucky, Chemical Engineering), Dr. Richard Warner (University of Kentucky, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering), Alex Fogle (University of Kentucky, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering), and Greg Higgins (Middle Fork Development).
Weathered sandstone materials, mixed with surface soils, are known to be excellent materials for use in constructing surface soils on coal surface mines being prepared for reforestation. However, such materials may not be available and/or economically retrievable at a given mine. As a result, some mining firms may prefer to use un-weathered overburden materials for mine soil construction. The properties of such materials may be poorly suited for reforestation when initially placed at the surface due to factors such as high electrical conductivity, alkaline pH, or high coarse fragment content. Weathering processes may cause these properties to change with time in a manner that improves their suitability for reforestation.
This project focused on 1) assessing the surface physical breakdown of geologic materials as a function of topographic changes and subsurface soil development, 2) evaluating the spatial distribution of naturally seeded plant material, and 3) assessing the response of tree growth to geologic material weathering and soil genesis.
Collaborators include Dr. Christopher Barton (University of Kentucky, Forestry and Appalachian Center), Teri Dowdy (University of Kentucky, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering), Jared Miller (University of Kentucky, Forestry), Alex Fogle (University of Kentucky, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering), and Patrick Angel (U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement).