U.S. Water News Online
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Scientists are studying the
possibility of using flooded coal mines as drinking water sources,
and they have asked their peers for help.
Researchers think better science will lead to better drinking
water for residents of Greenwood.
Van Brahana, a University of Arkansas professor of geosciences,
and graduate student Curtis Varnell said the water project will
succeed only when researchers explore every scientific aspect of the
proposal. Feedback from other scientists is essential, Brahana said.
``If the science is not right, the plug should be pulled,''
Brahana said recently.
``We want to get as much science as we can use, and we're inviting
input into the system,'' he said.
About 75 university faculty and students and representatives of
state and federal agencies attended a lecture recently at the annual
Arkansas Water Resources Center conference, where Brahana and Varnell
recounted the successes and pitfalls of their research.
Although the two determined water from the mines contains few
contaminants, one scientist suggested the researchers test fish found
in flooded mine entrances and nearby creeks for the same
Another cautioned Varnell about the possibility of large amounts
of methane gas that could be released if Greenwood begins to draw
down water from the mines.
``The science needs to be very, very precise here,'' Brahana said.
The geology supervisor for the Arkansas Department of Health said
the science looks good now, though politics could derail the project.
It may worry regulators that Greenwood is the first Arkansas
municipality to consider the project, said Roger Miller, with the
``The people that really have the decision-making authority, I
don't think they are averse to this,'' he said. ``I don't think they
would hit a lot of resistance, but there is that fear of the unknown.
You never know.''
Miller lived in a West Virginia town with a mine water source. He
said he was skeptical of the idea at first, but he thinks the water
can be an adequate drinking-water supply if properly treated.
Brahana, too, was initially skeptical, but his opinion changed
``When I first heard the idea, I thought it was crazy as a hoot
owl,'' he sa id.
Greenwood city officials enlisted the help of Brahana and Varnell
to study the feasibility of using the estimated 65 million gallons of
water in the coal mines to supplement Greenwood Lake, the primary
A preliminary report indicates the water is a safe, accessible and
inexpensive alternative to constructing a dam to enlarge the lake.
The estimated cost for tapping the coal mines is about $1.35 million.
A dam would cost at least 10 times more. More research findings
will result from a major pumping test later this year. The
researchers hope to discover the source of the mine water and to test
the quality of the water by pumping 3 million gallons per day for
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