Coal Tattoo

Dunkard Creek fish kill: A wake-up call for WVDEP?


We’ve discussed before the broader implications of the fish-kill disaster on Dunkard Creek in Northern West Virginia, and how it highlights the dangers of the Department of Environmental Protection’s failure to set water quality standards for total dissolved solids or write cleanup plans to address increased conductivity in streams across the state.

It might be that it takes this kind of terrible incident to shake the folks at WVDEP into moving more quickly to deal with both of these important issues.

Speaking to reporters after updating state lawmakers on the Dunkard Creek situation, WVDEP water director Scott Mandirola said the fish kill has forced his agency to re-examine how it has handled both the TDS issue and stream cleanup plans for streams with excess conductivity:

It certainly changed the playing field a little bit. 

While he didn’t make this clear in his prepared presentation to a special legislative interim committee on water issues, Mandirola said he generally agrees with the conclusions of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which has blamed CONSOL Energy mining discharges for the salty water conditions that allowed golden algae to grow to dangerously toxic levels in Dunkard Creek.

Mandirola said WVDEP may never know exactly how the golden algae got into Dunkard Creek in the first place. But, he said, there’s no real way to actually get rid of it. So regulators and water quality officials now need to focus on reducing conditions — primarily the salty water — that foster the algae to turn toxic:

We can’t ignore it. If we ignore it, we may see an event like this again.

I’ll have more on today’s legislative meeting in tomorrow’s Gazette. In the meantime, you can check out presentations by WVDEP and the state Division of Natural Resources on the fish kill here and here.