Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Effects of historical coal mining and drainage from abandoned mines on streamflow and water quality in Bear Creek, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania — March 1999–December 2002

April 15, 2005

More than 100 years of anthracite coal mining has changed surface- and ground-water hydrology and contaminated streams draining the Southern Anthracite Coal Field in east-central Pennsylvania. Bear Creek drains the western prong of the Southern Anthracite Coal Field and is affected by metals in drainage from abandoned mines and streamwater losses. Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) developed for dissolved iron of about 5 lb/d (pounds per day) commonly are exceeded in the reach downstream of mine discharges. Restoration of Bear Creek using aerobic ponds to passively remove iron in abandoned mine drainage is under consideration (2004) by the Dauphin County Conservation District. This report, prepared in cooperation with the Dauphin County Conservation District, evaluates chemical and hydrologic data collected in Bear Creek and its receiving waters prior to implementation of mine-drainage treatment. The data collected represent the type of baseline information needed for documentation of water-quality changes following passive treatment of mine drainage in Pennsylvania and in other similar hydrogeologic settings.

Seven surface-water sites on Bear Creek and two mine discharges were monitored for nearly three years to characterize the chemistry and hydrology of the following: (1) Bear Creek upstream of the mine discharges (BC-UMD), (2) water draining from the Lykens-Williamstown Mine Pool at the Lykens Water-Level Tunnel (LWLT) and Lykens Drift (LD) discharges, (3) Bear Creek after mixing with the mine discharges (BC-DMD), and (4) Bear Creek prior to mixing with Wiconisco Creek (BCM). Two sites on Wiconisco Creek, upstream and downstream of Bear Creek (WC-UBC and WC-DBC, respectively), were selected to evaluate changes in streamflow and water quality upon mixing with Bear Creek.

During periods of below-normal precipitation, streamwater loss was commonly 100 percent upstream of site BC-UMD (streamflow range = 0 to 9.7 ft3/s (cubic feet per second)) but no loss was detected downstream owing to sustained mine water drainage from the Lykens Water-Level Tunnel (range = 0.41 to 3.7 ft3/s), Lykens Drift (range = 0.40 to 6.1 ft3/s), and diffuse zones of seepage. Collectively, mine water inputs contributed about 84 percent of base flow and 53 percent of stormflow measured in the downstream reach.
An option under consideration by the Dauphin County Conservation District for treatment of the discharge from the LWLT requires the source of the discharge to be captured and rerouted downstream, bypassing approximately 1,000 feet of stream channel. Because streamwater loss upstream of the tunnel was commonly 100 percent, rerouting the discharge from the LWLT may extend the reach of Bear Creek that is subject to dryness.

Differences in the chemistry of water discharging from the LWLT compared to the LD suggest that the flow path through the Lykens-Williamstown Mine Pool to each mine discharge is unique. The LWLT is marginally alkaline (median net acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) = 9 mg/L (milligrams per liter) as CaCO3; median pH = 5.9), commonly becomes acidic (minimum net ANC = -74 mg/L as CaCO3) at low flow, and may benefit from alkaline amendments prior to passive treatment. Water discharging from the LD provides excess ANC (median net ANC = 123 mg/L as CaCO3; median pH = 6.5) to the downstream reach and is nearly anoxic at its source (median dissolved oxygen = 0.5 mg/L). Low dissolved oxygen water with relatively high ANC and metals concentrations discharging from the LD is characteristic of a deeper flow path and longer residence time within the mine pool than the more acidic, oxygenated water discharging from the LWLT.

TMDLs for iron have been developed for dissolved species only. Consequently, distinguishing between dissolved and suspended iron in Bear Creek is important for evaluating water-quality improvement through TMDL attainment. Median total iron concentration increased from 550 mg/L (micrograms per liter) at site BC-UM

Publication Year 2005
Title Effects of historical coal mining and drainage from abandoned mines on streamflow and water quality in Bear Creek, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania — March 1999–December 2002
DOI 10.3133/sir20055042
Authors Jeffrey J. Chaplin
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2005-5042
Index ID sir20055042
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pennsylvania Water Science Center