What Limits the Productivity of Acid Mine Drainage Treatment Ponds?

Acid mine drainage (AMD) treatment ponds are very common in the U.S. Appalachian coal region and are the main source of many headwater streams. Though the water that discharges from these ponds generally meets state and federal water quality standards, there is a distinct lack of productivity in most of these ponds. Our first objective was to compare the productivity of chemically-treated, biologically-treated, and untreated AMD ponds with uncontaminated (reference) ponds. Next, we used principal component analysis and multiple regression of 20 physicochemical characteristics of these ponds to resolve which factor(s) were responsible for inhibiting productivity. We discovered that chemically-treated AMD ponds and untreated AMD ponds exhibited significantly less gross primary productivity (GPP) than reference ponds, biologically-treated ponds (containing AMD that has passed through a wetland) did not vary significantly from reference ponds. Chemically-treated ponds also had significantly less net primary productivity (NPP) than reference ponds. Community respiration did not vary among the pond types. Our test results indicated that soluble reactive phosphate concentration explained most of the variance in both GPP and NPP. Apparently, phosphate availability, not metal toxicity, regulated phytoplankton productivity in these ponds.

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