Coal Creek drains a nearly 27-square mile watershed and enters the Crystal River at Redstone. Fifty years of large-scale coal mining occurred in Coal Basin, a watershed characterized by naturally steep, unstable and eroding slopes. The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety (CDRMS) completed a series of restoration projects in Coal Basin from 1994-2004 on nearly 650 acres of disturbed area directly connected to the Coal Creek stream system. Erosion from reclaimed mining areas, as well as sedimentation from naturally-occurring soil erosion and debris flows, are degrading water quality and stream habitat in Coal Basin and contributing to sedimentation issues and channel down cutting in the Crystal River. The White River National Forest and Roaring Fork Conservancy enhanced and maintained the reclaimed mine areas and also addressed the surrounding unstable slopes.
Biochar Used to Slow Erosion in Coal Basin During Pilot Study
In late September 2012, Roaring Fork Conservancy and the White River National Forest conducted a road reclamation pilot project in Coal Basin designed to assess the effectiveness of several restoration techniques which can be applied on a broader landscape scale in Coal Basin and other locations. The White River National Forest and Roaring Fork Conservancy partnered to complete the groundwork for the pilot project. The project reclaimed portions of one of the old coal haul roads to restore a more natural drainage pattern and applied two different soil amendments (biochar-compost, compost only, and no amendments for a control). The reclaimed areas will be seeded with native vegetation just before the snow falls. Next year, monitoring will be conducted to study the vegetation response, soil chemistry, and moisture content.
The pilot road reclamation effort in Coal Basin will yield important information on the efficacy and utility of biochar (which can be produced from beetle-killed timber) as a soil amendment. This is particularly significant, given the growing interest in biochar as a multipurpose reclamation material and the need for long-term field studies. This part of the project may also have economic implications - indicating the need for increased and local biochar production capabilities in Colorado to make landscape-scale applications feasible. The use of biochar for road reclamation will also provide the ancillary benefit of carbon sequestration – addressing an issue of importance for the entire planet.