The Virginia Water Resources Research Center at Virginia Tech has embarked on two new research projects in headwater streams affected by coal mining in southwestern Virginia. As the federal government announces new plans to protect water resources, these research efforts are aimed to provide objective scientific information to policy makers and to those involved in the debate surrounding mountaintop removal and other forms of coal mining.

“With so much at stake, there is a pressing need to base policy decisions on sound science, including an improved understanding of the impacts of mountaintop-removal mining on water resources,” said Stephen Schoenholtz, director, Virginia Water Resources Research Center at Virginia Tech. “This is why this research is so important.”

One project, funded by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and the Powell River Project, is evaluating measurements of hydrological and ecological functions in streams undergoing restoration activities following coal-mining impacts. Efforts to restore stream structure and function following coal mining are relatively recent (mostly within the past five years). Many questions have been raised as to effectiveness of these practices, but little research has been conducted in effort to answer them.

A second project, funded by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, and Virginia Tech’s Powell River Project, is investigating associations between total dissolved solids (TDS) and aquatic benthic macroinvertebrates (insects and other organisms that live on stream bottoms). High levels of TDS are often found in stream water originating from areas exposed to coal mining, and benthic macroinvertebrates are a key indicator of stream health.