Using aquatic biological assessments in conjunction with chemical and physical parameters to examine water quality before and after AMD remediation, reclamation, or treatments can be of great value. It is the biology of the stream that ultimately reveals its true health both before and after AMD recovery efforts.
Several of the Raccoon Creek Partners have collaborated to gather biological data throughout the watershed. Among these groups are Ohio University staff and students, Ohio Department of Natural Resources: Division of Wildlife (DOW) and Division of Mineral Resources Management (DMRM), Midwest Biodiversity Institute (MBI), and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA).
Ohio Department of Natural Resources DOW and OEPA have conducted fish sampling activities throughout the watershed to determine the Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) before and after AMD projects. The IBI score, a number ranging from 12 at very poor quality sites to 60 for sites of exceptional quality, assesses fish community health from three areas: species composition, trophic composition, and fish abundance and condition. Fish are documented through electro-fishing which uses electricity to temporarily stun the fish for ease of collection. Fish are then sorted by species, counted, weighed, measured, and checked for health and abnormalities. All of this data is used to calculate the final IBI score.
Raccoon Creek Partners also conduct MAIS and ICI sampling to better understand the macroinvertebrate communities in the streams and as additional habitat assessment criterion. The Macroinvertebrate Aggregated Index for Streams (MAIS) is a sampling technique based on family level identification of creatures collected from riffles using kick nets, and dip net samples from all other naturally occurring habitats within the sampling reach. The final score, a number ranging from 0 at poor sites to 20 at good sites is based on multiple metrics including sensitive species richness and feeding style.
The Invertebrate Community Index (ICI) identifies macroinvertebrates to a genus species level. With this sampling technique, collection is done though artificial substrates for collecting colonizing creatures, and dip nets for sampling all other available habitat. The ICI score is also a combination of several metrics and the final score ranging from 0 to 6 is based on its comparison a similarly structured, undisturbed site.
Current Ohio EPA Habitat Designations
The Ohio EPA has assessed streams in the Raccoon Creek basin and has designated them as warmwater habitat or limited resource water-acid mine drainage based on ICI, IBI, and other biological data.
Impaired Stream Segments and Use Designations Map
Warmwater habitat (WWH) defines the “typical” warmwater assemblage of aquatic organisms for Ohio streams. It is the principal restoration target for the majority of water resource management efforts in the state. From the village of Vinton to the creek’s discharge into the Ohio River, the stream is in full attainment of warmwater habitat.
Limited resource water-acid mine drainage (LRW-AMD) applies to streams and rivers that have been subjected to severe acid mine drainage pollution from abandoned mine lands or gob piles and for which there is no immediate prospect for reclamation. The representative aquatic assemblages are generally composed of species that are tolerant to low pH, silt, metals and overall poor habitat quality. Ohio EPA stated that the performance of the biological community and prevalence of AMD chemical parameters in the Raccoon Creek Headwaters, extending from the confluence of the East and West Branches (RM 111.96) near New Plymouth to Sandy Run (RM 92.52), warrants the LRW-AMD use designation. Mining impact has caused severe degradation in the East Branch of Raccoon Creek, which also was given this designation.
A total of 269 river and stream miles in Raccoon Creek were assessed. Eighty-five miles were in full attainment of the warmwater habitat (WWH) biocriteria or the limited resource water-acid mine drainage (LRW-AMD) designation—meaning they meet those designated “benchmarks.” Approximately 140 miles were in partial attainment, and 44 miles were in non-attainment of these benchmarks (OEPA 1997, 2).
Check out Raccoon Creek’s Improving Biology!
Data collected during these biological sampling events is available for viewing and download from the Raccoon Creek online database on the NPS Monitoring Site. Just choose a sampling site near the area of your interest and click on Biological Data