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Water and soils

Water quality

The Appalachians provide clean water to millions of people within and beyond the region, and to many urban areas that are often distant from the water sources they depend upon. Forested landscapes in the Appalachian LCC are particularly important for their capacity to provide clean drinking water and high-quality habitat for freshwater fish and other aquatic organisms. Surface water quality and availability can be compromised by increases in impervious surfaces and forest loss associated with urbanization, energy development, and surface mining; by point and non-point source pollution and increased sediment loads from these land uses; and intensive agricultural land uses. The impact of climate change on water quality and availability is likely to vary regionally, but average temperature increases may broadly result in reduced availability. Forest and wetland restoration efforts can have strong positive effects when sited appropriately.

Risk factors: Urbanization, surface mining, energy development, agricultural land use, climate change.

Hydrology and stream flow regulation

The amounts, velocities, and variability of flowing water in streams and rivers—especially the ‘normal’ or base flow and peak storm flows—have a profound influence on how water is utilized and what societal benefits and risks are associated with the great abundance of Appalachian streams and rivers. The risk of flooding, what kinds of outdoor recreation and tourism are supported, and freshwater habitat quality are all affected by these streamflow characteristics. In turn, flows are strongly influenced by the surrounding landscape and by precipitation patterns. In particular, the loss of forest cover from urbanization, mining, forest pathogens and other factors can elevate runoff, increasing downstream discharge rates, peak storm flows, and stream velocity. The frequency of extreme precipitation events is also expected to change over time; the effects of these events on streamflow will depend heavily on impervious surface cover, vegetation cover and characteristics, forest management practices, and other land use factors.

Risk factors: Urbanization, climate change, surface mining, forest pathogens.

Soil quality

Healthy, productive soils are a fundamental component of Appalachian landscapes supporting a wide variety of ecosystem services, including agriculture and silviculture, hydrological regulation, clean water, and carbon storage. Soil loss and compaction associated with surface mining and some reclamation practices can impede forest regeneration. Soil chemical properties, water content, and microbial communities are all negatively affected by some invasive plants across large areas, compromising native plant communities and restoration efforts.

Risk factors: Invasive species, surface mining.

References

Brantley, S. T., C. F. Miniat, K. J. Elliott, S. H. Laseter, and J. M. Vose. 2014. Changes to southern Appalachian water yield and stormflow after loss of a foundation species. Ecohydrology 8(3): 518-528.

Elgersma, K. J., and J. G. Ehrenfeld. 2011. Linear and non-linear impacts of a non-native plant invasion on soil microbial community structure and function. Biological Invasions 13(3): 757-768.

Evans, J. S., and J. M. Kiesecker. 2014. Shale gas, wind and water: Assessing the potential cumulative impacts of energy development on ecosystem services within the Marcellus Play. PLOS ONE 9.

Ford, C. R., S. H. Laseter, W. T. Swank, and J. M. Vose. 2011. Can forest management be used to sustain water-based ecosystem services in the face of climate change? Ecological Applications 21(6): 2049-2067.

Ford, C. R., and J. M. Vose. 2007. Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carr. mortality will impact hydrologic processes in southern Appalachian forest ecosystems. Ecological Applications 17(4): 1156-1167.

Fritz, K. M., S. Fulton, B. R. Johnson, C. D. Barton, J. D. Jack, D. A. Word, and R. A. Burke. 2010. Structural and functional characteristics of natural and constructed channels draining a reclaimed mountaintop removal and valley fill coal mine. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 29(2): 673-689.

Gardiner, E. P., A. B. Sutherland, R. J. Bixby, M. C. Scott, J. L. Meyer, G. S. Helfman, E. F. Benfield, C. M. Pringle, P. V. Bolstad, and D. N. Wear. 2009. Linking stream and landscape trajectories in the southern Appalachians. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 156(1): 17-36.

Keyser, T., J. Malone, C. Cotton, and J. Lewis. 2014. Outlook for Appalachian-Cumberland forests: a subregional report from the Southern Forest Futures Project. General Technical Report SRS-GTR-188. USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station: 83 pp.

Kourtev, P. S., J. G. Ehrenfeld, and M. Häggblom. 2003. Experimental analysis of the effect of exotic and native plant species on the structure and function of soil microbial communities. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 35(7): 895-905.

Lindberg, T. T., E. S. Bernhardt, R. Bier, A. Helton, R. B. Merola, A. Vengosh, and R. T. Di Giulio. 2011. Cumulative impacts of mountaintop mining on an Appalachian watershed. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(52): 20929-20934.

Lockaby, G., C. Nagy, J. M. Vose, C. R. Ford, G. Sun, S. McNulty, P. Caldwell, E. Cohen, and J. Moore Myers. 2013. Forests and water, Chapter 13, 309-339. In D. N. Wear and J. G. Greis, editors, The Southern Forest Futures Project: Technical Report. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-178, USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station: 542 pp.

Merricks, T. C., D. S. Cherry, C. E. Zipper, R. J. Currie, and T. W. Valenti. 2007. Coal-mine hollow fill and settling pond influences on headwater streams in southern West Virginia, USA. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 129(1): 359-378.

Miller, J. H., D. Lemke, and J. Coulston. 2013. The invasion of southern forests by nonnative plants: current and future occupation, with impacts, management strategies, and mitigation approaches, Chapter 15, 397-456. In D. N. Wear and J. G. Greis, editors, The Southern Forest Futures Project: Technical Report. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-178, USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station: 542 pp.

Pond, G. J., M. E. Passmore, F. A. Borsuk, L. Reynolds, and C. J. Rose. 2008. Downstream effects of mountaintop coal mining: Comparing biological conditions using family-and genus-level macroinvertebrate bioassessment tools. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 27(3): 717-737.

Townsend, P. A., D. P. Helmers, C. C. Kingdon, B. E. McNeil, K. M. de Beurs, and K. N. Eshleman. 2009. Changes in the extent of surface mining and reclamation in the Central Appalachians detected using a 1976–2006 Landsat time series. Remote Sensing of Environment 113(1): 62-72.

Wardrop, D. H., A. K. Glasmeier, J. Peterson-Smith, D. Eckles, H. Ingram, and R. P. Brooks. 2011. Wetland ecosystem services and coupled socioeconomic benefits through conservation practices in the Appalachian Region. Ecological Applications 21(Supp): S93-S115.

Wickham, J. D., and C. H. Flather. 2013. Integrating biodiversity and drinking water protection goals through geographic analysis. Diversity and Distributions 19(9): 1198-1207.

Zipper, C., J. Burger, J. Skousen, P. Angel, C. Barton, V. Davis, and J. Franklin. 2011. Restoring forests and associated ecosystem services on Appalachian coal surface mines. Environmental Management 47(5): 751-765.

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