Reforestation and Water Quality: Optimizing Plant Systems to Minimize Total Dissolved Solid Delivery to Surface Waters

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Virginia Tech. Powell River Project


This proposal requests funds to continue and complete a project that will advance the science and practice of reclamation at the intersection of revegetation and water quality. Recommended reforestation practice, the Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA), includes guidelines for loose dumping and grading of topsoil substitutes. While highly beneficial to seedling survival and productivity, there are also concerns that such practices will increase infiltration, weathering, and total dissolved solid (TDS) generation from reclaimed mined lands. Much of the focus of Powell River Project and other associated work aimed at mitigating TDS loading to surface waters has been on chemical (e.g., topsoil substitute selection) and physical (e.g., geological confinement) approaches. Less is known about the potential optimization of biological systems to minimize TDS leaching, despite the fact that forest vegetation removes a large proportion of precipitation inputs through evapotranspiration, and a majority of the ions making up typical TDS are nutrients required by plants in relatively large amounts. Thus, this proposed work will test the concept that rapidly aggrading forests can decrease TDS generation through a decrease in the quantity of water leaving the rooting zone (from increased evapotranspiration), and by decreasing the concentration of TDS nutrient ions in percolating waters (from plant demand and uptake). Optimizing biological reclamation strategies to improve water quality would provide reclamation professionals with an economically feasible approach to compliment existing efforts to maintain regional surface water quality.