SURFACE COAL MINING AND
YOUR WATER SUPPLY

What Every Property Owner Should Know

 

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Tom Ridge, Governor

Department of Environmental Protection

James M. Seif, Secretary

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Surface coal mine operators have a legal obligation to protect water supplies near their mines.Under state law, if an operator affects a water supply, they must restore or replace the supply to meet the needs of the user.This publication answers commonly asked questions about mining and water supplies and explains the rights and responsibilities of property owners and mine operators.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulates mining throughout the Commonwealth.Pennsylvania law does not make it illegal for a mine to affect water supplies.But the operator must replace the affected supply with one that has the same, or better, quantity and quality.The law assumes mine operators are responsible for any impacts to water supplies within 1,000 feet of a surface coal mining operation, unless the operator can prove otherwise.Beyond 1,000 feet, it is the responsibility of DEP to prove mining caused any water supply problems.

DEP must base its decisions on scientific facts and solid evidence because any action taken by DEP against the mine operator can be legally challenged.You, the property owner, can help protect your water supply by cooperating with pre-mining surveys.

Why Should I Allow A Mine Operator Access to Test My Water Supply?

 

The mine operator is required to test your water supply prior to mining.Testing documents the quality of your water, the amount of water the supply produces and the current uses of your water.Mine operators need your permission to enter your property for this testing.If you refuse to provide the mine operator access to your water supply, you may lose important protections.

Under the law, mine operators are presumed responsible for affecting water supplies within 1,000 feet of their mining operation, unless (1) they can prove that they were not responsible, or (2) the property owner denied access to collect the required pre-mining information.You could still document the pre-mining quality and yield of your water supply Ė at your own expense.But if you do, you must be able to prove the accuracy of the testing and the results, and you could bear the burden of proving that the mine operator affected your supply.

Allowing the mine operator access to test your water supply is the single most important step you can take to ensure your rights are protected.

 

What Type of Testing

Will Be Conducted on My Water Supply?

 

Generally, each water supply is analyzed at least twice.But water supplies selected for long-term monitoring will have at least six monthly samples before the mining permit is issued.The water is analyzed for chemicals that are characteristic of mine water.This includes pH, alkalinity, acidity, iron, manganese, sulfate and temperature.DEP can require other chemical analyses on a case-by-case basis.

The test also documents physical data about your water supply, such as location; type of supply; type of treatment system; existing uses; and existing water conditions like color, odor, turbidity and staining.For wells, depth of well casing, diameter and depth of well; static water levels (the level that water is standing in the well); and depth to pump setting are also determined.

Pump tests are often needed to determine the amount of water, or yield, a well can provide.This typically involves pumping the well for a period of up to two hours and measuring the water level and the pumping rate at various times (flow in gallons per minute).When completed, the water level continues to be measured to determine how quickly it returns to its level before the test.Occasionally, longer tests are needed to more accurately determine the yield.

A spring yield is typically determined by measuring the flow.The methods and location of measurements depend on the construction of the spring.

 

What Happens if My Water Supply

is Damaged During Testing?

If mine operators or their consultants damage your water supply system during data collection or testing, they are responsible for the damages.You are responsible for pursuing the collection of compensation for any damages from pre-mining testing.

 

What Happens if My Water Supply

is Impacted by Mining?

If a mining-related impact occurred, the mine operator must identify how they will restore or replace your water

supply.There are some exceptions:you, the property owner, can waive your rights and agree to a lesser or lower quality supply.An example of this would be accepting a system requiring treatment for iron, where the existing supply had naturally low iron.Requirements for new or restored supplies include:

Quality:The quality has to be good enough so that you can use it just as you used your original supply.

Quantity:The water supply must yield enough water to meet your existing needs.If you have documented planned uses and your existing well would provide sufficient water, the replacement well must also be sufficient to fulfill those planned uses.

Other Requirements:The replacement water supply must also:

        Be as reliable as the pre-mining supply;

        Be as permanent as the pre-mining supply;

        Not require excessive maintenance;

        Give you as much control and accessibility to the replacement water supply as you had with the pre-mining supply; and

        Not result in more than a negligible* cost increase to operate and maintain the replacement water supply.

* A negligible cost increase is defined by regulation as an increase less than 15 percent of the annual operating and maintenance costs of the original water supply or less than $60 per year.

 

Who Pays for My Water Supply

Restoration or Replacement?

The mine operator pays the cost of restoring or replacing your water supply.If the operating and maintenance costs of the replacement water supply are more than a negligible cost increase, the operator must provide for the permanent payment of the increased operating and maintenance costs of the replacement water supply.The operator is also responsible for all installation costs.You may, however, waive the requirement for the mine operator to provide a permanent payment of the increased operating and maintenance costs (for example, if both parties agree to a one-time cash settlement).

What is DEPís Role in Protecting My Water Supply?

 

DEP is responsible for reviewing permit applications.These applications contain the information collected by the mine operator concerning your water supply.DEP collects its own samples of some water supplies and independently gets other information on some water supplies to verify what is written in the permit application.

DEP evaluates this information to decide whether the proposed mining will impact your water supply.DEPís hydrogeologists are highly educated, skilled professionals who are experts in understanding how to protect your water supply.If they decide that your water supply may be impacted, they will review the adequacy of the mine operatorís proposal for a replacement water supply.DEP will notify you of this by certified mail.This notice will outline how the water supply will be replaced if affected by the mining operation.It will also provide a DEP contact person, who can answer any questions you may have.

Once mining activities begin, you should report any impacts to your water supply to both the mine operator and the appropriate DEP District Mining Office.If impacts are reported on a water supply located within 1,000 feet of a surface mining operation, the operator is presumed guilty under the law.It is the operatorís responsibility to prove otherwise.DEP is responsible for reviewing any evidence the operator provides.DEP will also conduct its own investigation.

If the impacted water supply is beyond 1,000 feet of the surface mining operation, the operator is not presumed liable.In these cases, DEP must conduct its own investigation to determine if the operation is responsible.Investigations may include collection of physical data about the water supply, water samples and pump tests.If DEP damages your water supply during testing, DEP is responsible for correcting the damage.

DEP is responsible for making sure surface mine operators comply with the water supply replacement and restoration provisions of the law.If DEP determines that mining has impacted your water supply, DEP will notify the operator.If needed, DEP can issue a formal order for replacement or restoration of your water supply.However, these orders can be appealed by the mine operator and overturned in court.After replacement or restoration, DEP is responsible to determine if the measures taken are adequate.

 

For More Information

To learn more about surface coal mining and your water supply, please contact the DEP District Mining Office in your area.These offices maintain copies of permit applications and issued surface mine permits, which are available for public viewing by appointment.The permit applications contain information on your water supply that was collected by the mine operator and DEP.Copies of the applications or permits are also available in the County Conservation Districts.

 

Pottsville District Mining Office

5 West Laurel Blvd.

Pottsville, PA 17901-2454

Telephone: 570-621-3118

Counties Served: Adams, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Snyder, Susquehanna, Union, Wayne, Wyoming and York

Hawk Run District Mining Office

Empire Road, P.O. Box 209

Hawk Run, PA 16840-0209

Telephone: 814-342-8200

Counties Served: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Lycoming, Potter, Sullivan and Tioga

Knox District Mining Office

White Memorial Building, P.O. Box 669

Knox, PA 16232-0669

Telephone: 814-797-1191

Counties Served: Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer, Venango and Warren

Cambria District Mining Office

286 Industrial Park Road

Ebensburg, PA 15931-4119

Telephone: 814-472-1900

Counties Served: Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana and Somerset

Greensburg District Mining Office

Armbrust Building, RR 2, Box 603C

Greensburg, PA 15601-0982

Telephone: 724-925-5500

Counties Served: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland

 

5600-PA-DEP2563††† 10/2000

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