Limited knowledge exists regarding the hydrologic system and associated water quality from mined lands that have either been constructed with loose dumped spoil or reclaimed through ripping. The traditional reclamation technique is to spread topsoil or soil substitute material using large earth moving equipment, thereby creating a compacted layer that inhibits tree establishment and growth. Grass cover is established and therefore erosion is substantially reduced. Additionally, the site appears to be aesthetically pleasing due to the grass cover. Unfortunately, such reclamation is counterproductive to tree establishment and growth due to competition by grasses and the highly compacted soil/spoil.
Some concern has been expressed about the 'moonscape' appearance of loose-dumped spoil and ripped reclaimed areas. Flooding in Eastern Kentucky surface-mined areas has been a continuous problem, and therefore increased sedimentation of streams and higher peak flows are always a concern.
Based on preliminary applied research conducted at the University of Kentucky, it has been determined that runoff and sediment rates are substantially lower for loose-dumped spoil areas and ripped areas compared to traditional reclamation techniques.
The high relief landscape of loose-dumped spoil provides ample opportunities for:
- Depressional storage of surface runoff enabling deposition of eroded soils,
- Reduction of runoff potential, and
- Provision of soil moisture for rapid establishment and growth of trees.
Thus, the opportunity readily exists for establishing an Appalachian forest after surface mining.