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Abstract

Temporal and spatial variability of acid rock drainage in a rehabilitated coal mine, Wangaloa, South Otago, New Zealand.

Abstract

The Wangaloa open cast coal mine ceased operations in 1989, with no restoration of the 252 ha site, and moderate acid rock drainage developed. A major rehabilitation programme was initiated in 2002 with removal of exotic vegetation, and extensive planting (>60 000) of native seedlings was begun in 2003. By 2006, most seedlings were thriving, and, combined with adventive exotic weeds, a 70% vegetation cover had been achieved. The site substrates were highly variable on the 10-100 m2 scale, and have been characterised by paste pH (>700 measurements). In 2003, substrates had moderate acidity (pH=4.5±0.9) with distinctly acid patches (pH down to <2). By 2006, the average substrate pH was essentially unchanged. Some distinctly acid patches had higher pH, and one patch had apparently become more acid. Water compositions (>100 samples from 15 sites) were also highly variable spatially and temporally. Incoming stream and rainwater (pH 5-6) chemically interacted with acid substrates, especially waste rock piles that contain pyrite-bearing material, and evolved to lower pH (pH down to 3.4), sulfate-rich waters. A pit lake on the site receives most surface and groundwater runoff, and this lake, with a water residence time of 1-2 yr, controls the site discharge water quality. The lake pH varies on a monthly time-scale from 4.5 to 6.5, synchronised with pH variations in groundwater boreholes in waste rock. In addition, there has been a general increase in pH of the lake during rehabilitation from consistent pH 4.6-4.8 before rehabilitation to near pH 6 during rehabilitation. The sulfate/chloride ratio of lake water has decreased from 20 to <10 during rehabilitation as well. These changes in lake water composition from year to year may be a result of increased input of rainwater that has had less interaction with substrate than runoff water had before rehabilitation began.