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Effect of mine dewatering on the peatlands of the James Bay Lowland: the role of marine sediments on mitigating peatland drainage

Authors


Correspondence to: Peter Whittington, Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3G1

E-mail: whittington.pete@gmail.com

Abstract

The wetlands of the James Bay Lowland comprise one of largest wetland complexes in the world, in part due to the properties (thickness and hydraulic conductivity) of the marine sediment (MS) that underlay them. Dewatering of an open-pit diamond mine is depressurizing the surrounding Silurian bedrock below the MS. Prior to mining, it was assumed that these MS would largely isolate the overlying peatlands from the depressurized regional bedrock aquifer. To assess this isolation, we instrumented a 1.5 km long transect of wells and piezometers located within the zone of the mine's influence that crossed a sequence of bogs, fens, and bedrock outcrops (bioherms). Results were differentiated between those areas with no MS (near bioherms) and those underlain by MS (non-bioherm) along the transect. Between 2007 and 2010 at near-bioherm and non-bioherm locations, average peat water tables declined 71 and 31 cm, and hydraulic head declined 66 and 32 cm, in bioherm and non-bioherm locations, respectively. Gradients varied from near zero (−0.001) at the start of dewatering to −0.03 (after 5 years) in non-bioherm areas and from −0.20 to −0.45 in near-bioherm areas. These gradients corresponded to fluxes (groundwater recharge) of approximately −0.26 mm/day and −2.1 mm/day, in non- and near-bioherm areas, respectively. Specific discharge (recharge) determined using the known mine dewatering rate and drawdown cone heads and areas corresponded well with measured recharge determined in the non-bioherm transect locations. A simple rearrangement of Darcy's Law used to calculate the specific discharge highlighted how the ratio of hydraulic conductivity to the thickness of the MS can be used to assess vulnerable areas. Therefore, given the increasing development in Ontario's Far North, considerable attention must be given to both the thickness and hydraulic conductivity of MS. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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