Coal mining has been conducted in Pennsylvania, as well as much of the Appalachian Coal Basin, for more than 200 years. With Pennsylvania’s coal reserves playing a major role in the Industrial Revolution, the United States became a modern developed nation and major world power. This historical utilization of coal to heat our homes and to fuel our industries, however, resulted in a legacy of severe environmental impacts and public safety issues. The majority of these impacts are associated with mines operational prior to the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 and Pennsylvania’s legislative efforts including the Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act of 1945.
Small towns and villages of western Pennsylvania and Appalachia, which were once bustling coal communities supporting the steel industry and electricity generation for such cities as Pittsburgh (PA), Wheeling (WV), and Johnstown (PA), are now often non-existent ghost towns left with only scarred landscapes characterized by dangerous highwalls, barren coal refuse piles, and, polluted mine drainage. According to the Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, these pollutive discharges, commonly referred to as acid mine drainage or abandoned mine drainage (AMD), are one of the largest source of stream degradation in Pennsylvania, with over 5,600 miles of streams impacted. Furthermore, 45 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are impacted with over 250,000 acres of unreclaimed mine lands, 2.6 billion cubic yards of abandoned coal refuse, and about 7,800 abandoned underground mines. In many cases, entire watersheds have been completely decimated by AMD.
Over the last three decades, watershed organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies have been installing systems to treat abandoned mine drainage throughout Pennsylvania and the United States. According to an inventory of mine drainage treatment projects compiled by Datashed, over 325 passive and at least 15 active publicly-funded systems exist within Pennsylvania alone that are treating billions of gallons of AMD and preventing millions of pound of metal loadings from entering streams each year. Through land reclamation and installation of treatment systems, many streams have been, or are in the process of being, restored. These restoration projects, however, must be properly maintained including regularly scheduled site inspections and water monitoring in order to ensure long-term treatment and sustained improvements in stream quality. To prevent streams from reverting to their polluted condition, these projects must continue to function.
Volunteers, non-profit organizations, and government agencies have spent numerous hours collecting valuable water quality data in order to determine the effectiveness of these treatment systems. Dependent upon the organization, this data has a variety of end uses. Some groups enter this data into a computer database and use the data for reports, newsletters, etc. Other groups do not have a database and only keep paper records. Many times, government and nonprofit agencies store their data in proprietary databases behind firewalls for security. As a result, the availability of this data to the general public and to researchers is limited. Datashed seeks to change this.
Stream Restoration Incorporated (SRI) has assisted numerous watershed groups throughout Pennsylvania with assessment, restoration, and protection projects. These efforts have included all necessary reports, studies, designs and construction oversight for the installation of over 60 passive treatment systems throughout Pennsylvania having a combined total of more than 300 components. With this experience, SRI understands the necessity of properly maintaining passive treatment systems and the need to make water quality data available to others.
In 2002, SRI began the development of Datashed to aid in the operation, maintenance, and monitoring of passive treatment systems. Work began on Datashed under a small United States Geologic Survey (USGS) grant to SRI to assist interns from Grove City College in monitoring passive treatment systems in the headwaters of the Slippery Rock Creek watershed. A small company, 241 Computer Services, offered to donate much of their time to create a simple interface for these interns to upload water quality data through the Internet and to provide downloadable information, such as schematics and inspection sheets, on the passive treatment systems.
As funding was not readily available for Datashed, work was completed in small increments over time utilizing Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) when available to reduce costs while increasing the longevity, security, reliability and stability of the web site. Commercial software would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet the requirements. The FOSS alternatives met these requirements and reduced initial and recurring maintenance costs of the software. The early versions of Datashed used PHP, MySQL, Mapserver, Apache, and MediaWiki as well as a host of open source functional libraries and custom coding.
Over the years, Datashed has gone through various upgrades, improvements, updates, etc. In 2011, the website architecture was overhauled to the Drupal 6 platform which is a free, open source, content management system. In 2018, our long-standing partner 241 Computer Services closed up shop and we began a search for a new partner, which we found in NuRelm, Inc. In 2019, we began a complete overhaul and rebuild of the site including upgrading from Drupal 6 to Drupal 8.9. The current version of Datashed was released in January 2021 with additional improvements/upgrades expected over the next year or two.
Additional partners have contributed to Datashed since its inception and include: BioMost, Inc.; Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR); Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds; PA Department of Environmental Protection; Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition; US Environmental Protection Agency; Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (WPCAMR), and others.
Datashed currently offers the following capabilities:
- Instant, 24/7 access to important documents such as design drawings, final reports, Operation & Maintenance Plans, inspection sheets, directions to project sites, topographic maps, aerial imagery, and photos
- Password-protected data submissions
- An interactive GIS map depicting all known passive treatment systems at abandoned mine sites in Pennsylvania and other datasets
- Multi-parameter project searches
- Public access to all water sampling data
One of the primary functions of Datashed is to offer access to materials that will allow organizations, especially volunteer-based programs, to easily manage and monitor their passive systems and watershed restoration efforts. Datashed provides a place to store and view a wide variety of documents that can be viewed or downloaded including final reports, operation and maintenance plans, site schematics, as-built drawings, etc. In addition, Datashed uses a combination of Mapbox and direct links to Google Maps to allow users to view and print directions to the passive system based on their address.
Water Quality Data
The data stored within Datashed can be viewed and downloaded from the web by anyone in several different formats. The data is found by searching for the passive system or stream within a multi-parameter query or by utilizing the mapping feature. Once the site is found, data can be viewed in dynamically-generated reports or downloaded as a CSV (comma separated value) file, which is easily opened in Excel, Access or other tools to allow further calculations and data manipulations.
No data may be uploaded to Datashed without first having an account. Users must type in their password before being able to access the data submission interface. Passwords protect Datashed from potential vandalism and false data entries and provide a traceable path to the source of the data. Data can be uploaded in several ways. For new organizations using Datashed, a tool has been developed to import large datasets in an electronic format. This tool assists in matching the fields within the organizations dataset to fields within Datashed. This tool also checks the data to ensure the data is within appropriate ranges (i,e., pH is between 0 and 14). In addition to water quality and operation and maintenance data, users may upload photos.