Relationship of land use and elevated ionic strength in Appalachian watersheds



Coal mining activities have been implicated as sources that increase stream specific conductance in Central Appalachia. The present study characterized potential sources of elevated ionic strength for small subwatersheds within the Coal, Upper Kanawha, Gauley, and New Rivers in West Virginia. From a large monitoring data set developed by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, 162 < 20–km2-watersheds were identified that had detailed land cover information in southwestern West Virginia with at least one water chemistry sample. Scatter plots of specific conductance were generated for nine land cover classifications: open water, agriculture, forest, residential, barren, total mining, valley fill, abandoned mine lands, and mining excluding valley fill and abandoned mine lands. Conductivity was negatively correlated with the percentage of forest area and positively associated with other land uses. In a multiple regression, the percentage of area in valley fill was the strongest contributor to increased ionic strength, followed by percentage of area in urban (residential/buildings) land use and other mining land use. Based on the 10th quantile regression, 300 µS/cm was exceeded at 3.3% of area in valley fill. In most catchments, HCOmath image and SOmath image concentrations were greater than Cl concentration. These findings confirm coal mining activities as the primary source of high conductivity waters. Such activities might be redressed with the goal of protecting sources of dilute freshwater in the region. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2013;32:296–303. © 2012 SETAC