The mining technique of mountain top removal, and subsequent valley filling, a practice employed in the Appalachian Coal Belt Region of eastern Kentucky, is detrimental to headwater stream systems. The watershed values (i.e. water storage, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, habitat, etc.) provided by headwater stream systems are essentially lost once the valley is filled. The development of practical stream restoration and creation techniques for post-mined lands is needed to regain lost headwater stream system value. Important to note is that these techniques must be 1) all encompassing of the valuable functions of headwater stream systems and 2) economically feasible for the mining companies to implement for both currently constructed fills and for future fills.
Fortunately, an opportunity to develop head-of-hollow fill stream restoration techniques is present at the University of Kentucky's Robinson Forest. Robinson Forest is an approximately 15,000-acre teaching, research and extension forest administered by the Department of Forestry at the University of Kentucky. Located in the rugged eastern portion of the Cumberland Plateau and largely isolated from human activities, Robinson Forest is unique in its diversity. During the 1990s, a section of Robinson Forest, including the proposed restoration site at Guy Cove, was mined for coal. As part of the mining process, a valley fill was created in Guy Cove, which impacted the headwater stream system in that valley. While there was significant environmental loss, a unique research and demonstration opportunity was created. Currently, the University of Kentucky has received funding from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ In-Lieu-Free Program to conduct a restoration project at Guy Cove.
The objectives of the Guy Cove Restoration Project are to:
- Recreate headwater stream functions in an economically feasible manner.
- Attenuate runoff events to reduce peak discharges and increase base flows.
- Promote surface expression of water and enhance wetland treatment efficiency to improve water quality.
- Improve habitat through the development of vernal ponds and a hardwood forest.
- Establish an outdoor classroom for demonstrating design principles, construction techniques, and measurement of system performance.
- Educate a myriad of stakeholders including consulting and mining engineers, land reclamation design professionals, the regulatory community, environmental advocacy groups, and students.
The major components of the design included:
- Modifications to the head-of-hollow fill geometry,
- Compaction of the crown to control infiltration,
- Creation of a channel, with a clay underliner, across the crown of the fill,
- Use of loose dumped spoil to promote tree growth,
- Development and/or enhancement of a variety of ephemeral channels utilizing different materials such as rock from the head-of-hollow fill, rock from natural channels, and woody debris,
- Creation of vernal ponds for energy dissipation and habitat enhancement, and
- Implementation of a treatment system along with modifications to an existing wetland to improve water quality.