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Wetlands 

 
Authors: Jack Caldwell

Summary

This review surveys online resources relevant to constructing, restoring, and/or maintaining a mine-related wetland. It gives a definition of wetlands and lists software, specialists, consultants, and suppliers that deal with wetlands. It also describes how constructed wetlands are used to treat acid mine drainage.

INTRODUCTION

You are involved with wetlands in mining if you do one or more of the following:
  • Remove a wetland to make way for your mine
  • Construct and operate a new wetland as part of a mitigation or reclamation project at your mine
  • Use a wetland to control acid mine drainage
  • Install a wetland to deal with contaminated runoff from the heap leach pad or tailings impoundment.

In this review, we survey resources available on the web that may help you do or manage somebody else doing the work involved in constructing, restoring, and/or maintaining a mine-related wetland.

WETLAND - DEFINITION

Small wetland in Marshall County, Indiana. Photo by Derek Jensen What is a wetland? Actually nobody seems to know. At least the US Supreme Court is divided on the issue- see the Georgetown Law Faculty Blog.

As always, the genius of the commons results in Wikipedia having, in my opinion, the best definition and general description of wetlands.

There are hundreds of definitions on the web. Here are three that make a little sense:

  • An area that is regularly saturated by surface water or groundwater and is characterized by a prevalence of vegetation that is adapted for life in saturated soil conditions (eg, swamps, bogs, fens, marshes, and estuaries). http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/rptcong/1994/glossary.htm
  • A general term applied to land areas which are seasonally or permanently waterlogged, including lakes, rivers, estuaries, and freshwater marshes; an area of low-lying land submerged or inundated periodically by fresh or saline water. http://biology.usgs.gov/s+t/SNT/noframe/zy198.htm
  • Includes permanently or intermittently wet areas, shallow water, and land water margins that support a natural ecosystem of plants and animals that are adapted to wet conditions http://www.ebop.govt.nz/Coast/Glossary-of-terms.asp

E-BOOKS

Unquestionably the best e-book on wetlands is Wetlands in Washington State. Even though your mine may be far from Washington, I recommend download and reading of this volume, before you tackle a wetland on your mine.

Another superb e-book is Technical and Regulatory Guidance Document for Constructed Treatment Wetlands prepared by the Interstate Technology & Regulatory Council.

Rounding out my top three selections is the masters thesis Constructed Wetlands Use for Cyanide and Metal Removal from Gold Mill Effluents by Ignacio Rodriguez Garcia. I wonder where he is working now?

The InfoMine Publications database lists over twenty-five publications on wetlands and mining. I do not write about any of these here as they are readily available by accessing this link.


WEBSITES

Killarney Lake Marsh, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo credit: bcwetlands.com) This review is concerned only with wetlands in the mining context. The web is alive with sites on every aspect and location of wetlands from Albania to British Columbia to Zambia and Zimbabwe. Here are some you may look at as background to addressing your mine's needs.

Society of Wetland Scientists is the most comprehensive site I came across on wetlands in general. Of course you need to pay to get the journal, so that is off limits, but the links list is particularly long-and most are alive.

Association of Wetland Managers. is an alive site with news, publications, links, and conference announcements.

The Wetland Research & Technology Center consolidates administrative, technological, and research skills available at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center. The Center facilitates and coordinates wetlands scientific and engineering work, wetlands training, interagency coordination efforts, and responds to those in the public who are seeking answers to wetlands related questions. Here are three useful links they provide:


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife website has a page full of wetland Information.


SOFTWARE

Seems like there is a lot of software that enables you to go to the field, note what you see, and then the computer will tell you if what you see is a wetland. One of these many is Wetland Quickforms "designed to speed completion of Routine Wetland Determination forms as described in the U.S. Army 1987 Corps of Engineers Wetlands Delineation Manual." Another is EnviroLink software for use with PalmOS personal digital assistants allows the scientist or engineer to collect wetland delineation data in the field using a PalmOS PDA, then HotSync the PDA to a personal computer and print out the Corps of Engineers wetland delineation form, saving the time-consuming task of data entry in the office.

Then there are the codes that model the flow of water in and around and through wetlands. For example, FLOWTHRU displays groundwater flow patterns in an aquifer near a surface water body. Although written with shallow lakes in mind, the program also applies to wetlands, rivers, streams, canals and channels. The primary uses of FLOWTHRU are (i) for determining the depths of groundwater capture zones near shallow water bodies (analogous to the problem of wellhead protection), and (ii) as an educational tool, to allow users to visualize flow patterns near surface water bodies.

SPECIALISTS

I have not met any of the following specialists in the application of wetlands to mines, but their work appears impressive and their knowledge extensive on the basis of the links I provide:

Jim Gusek of Golder Associates in Denver. See these his technical papers in the InfoMine library and these links:

Jack Adams with Bioremediation and Bioprocess Consulting, Park City, Utah. See these links:

Timothy K. Tsukamoto, Ph.D,is at the University of Nevada, Reno at tsukamoto.tim@gmail.com See these links relative to his skills and activities:


CONSULTANTS

InfoMine Consultants lists consultants who claim to provide services to the mining industry re wetlands: Here are some that struck me as genuine wetland focussed (no guarantees here, just my personal impression.):

A long list of consultants in the southeast USA is at this link: Wetlands and Water of the USA Consultants.

Wetland Consultants list is another long list of consultants providing services across the USA in all aspects of wetlands.


SUPPLIERS

Theoretically you need no supplies once the wetland is constructed, but as always the claim of no maintenance is an ideal not a reality. Here is one supplier Ionic Water Technologies.


ACID MINE DRAINAGE TREATMENT WITH WETLANDS

Here is an edited version of material available in more detail elsewhere on InfoMine. I cull the following from Wetlands for the Treatment of Mine Drainage by Dr. Andre Sobolewski. We have asked him to update and he has promised to write a full course for EduMine-stay tuned.


Constructed wetlands for treatment of mine drainage

There are two fundamentally different types of constructed wetlands: those dealing with coal-generated mine drainage, and those dealing with drainage from metal mines. We know a great deal more about the former than the latter. Therefore, I will deal separately with systems treating mine drainage from coal mines and metal mines.

Features common to every wetland treatment system can be seen in the system (for a moderately small site) shown below. The photograph, looking downward from the top of a slope, shows a series of wetlands treating the acidic discharge from an abandoned underground coal mine. The wetlands are visible as dark green patches on the lighter-colored grassy slope. The mine water is gravity-fed from an adit near the top of the hill, and the treated water is discharged at a site near the car stationed to the right of the house.

A wetland treatment system

Note the following features of this system. The wetlands are integrated within the landscape: looking at them, you wouldn't know they're acting as treatment systems for mine drainage. Several wetlands are used for treatment, rather than a single one. This is due to restrictions imposed by the landscape and the need to achieve a specified surface area for treatment. Furthermore, their elongated shape maximizes contact between the water and the wetland surface.

Surprisingly, plants do not remove metals to a significant degree. However, iron plaques forming on plant roots will retain arsenic and other metals (Otte et al., 1995). Metal adsorption onto detritus is also important. Chemical reactions (hydrolysis) and biologically-driven reactions (formation of insoluble sulphides and carbonates) primarily account for the removal of metals and their retention in sediments. Neutralization of acidic water within wetlands results from biological production of bicarbonate. The only maintenance these otherwise "passive treatment systems" may require is the periodic removal of precipitates accumulating in sedimentation ponds.

The challenge in designing a wetland treatment system is to assemble several elements (such as anoxic limestone drains, ponds, and wetlands) and size them properly to produce biogeochemical processes which treat the mine drainage to the desired water quality on a consistent basis. These links give more information on wetlands for coal mines and metal mines.

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