Reservoir 29 and Lake B are extremely acid lakes (epilimnion pHs of 2.7 and 3.2, respectively), because they receive acidic discharges from coal refuse piles. They differ in that the pH of profundal sediments in Reservoir 29 increased from 2.7 to 3.8 during the period of thermal stratification, whereas permanently anoxic sediments in Lake B had a pH of 6.2. The pH rise in Reservoir 29 sediments was correlated with a temporal increase in H(2)S concentration in the anaerobic hypolimnion from 0 to >1 mM. The chlorophyll a levels in the epilimnion of Reservoir 29 were low, and the rate of primary production was typical of an oligotrophic system. However, there was a dense 10-cm layer of algal biomass at the bottom of the metalimnion. Production by this layer was low owing to light limitation and possibly H(2)S toxicity. The specific photosynthetic rates of epilimnetic algae were low, which suggests that nutrient availability is more important than pH in limiting production. The highest photosynthetic rates were obtained in water samples incubated at pH 2.7 to 4. Heterotrophic bacterial activity (measured by [C]glucose metabolism) was greatest at the sediment/water interface. Bacterial production (assayed by thymidine incorporation) was as high in Reservoir 29 as in a nonacid mesotrophic Indiana lake.