Coal Tattoo

EPA: Mine discharges killed Dunkard Creek

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A new federal government report blames coal-mining discharges for creating the conditions that allowed an exotic algae to bloom, killing all aquatic life in Dunkard Creek, the scenic stream along the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border.

My buddy Don Hopey at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had the first story on this here, and you can read the report for yourself here.

As Don reported, the EPA report agrees with previous West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection conclusions that the toxic Golden Algae was responsible for killing thousands of fish, mussels, salamanders and other aquatic life in Dunkard Creek in September. It’s not clear exactly how the algae got there in the first place.

But, the 17-page EPA report also notes that high conductivity and dissolved solids in the creek — coming from coal-mine discharges — created conditions favorable to the algae’s growth to toxic levels.  Normally, this particular algae is confined to brackish waters, mostly in the southwestern U.S.

Interestingly, the EPA report notes that federal officials previously (on Sept. 30 — in the midst of the investigation of the fish kill) approved the WVDEP’s  cleanup plan for some pollution problems in Dunkard Creek. EPA notes that the cleanup plan, called a TMDL, would deal with some of the “stressors” on Dunkard Creek’s water quality.

But, the EPA report didn’t really make clear that the TMDL does nothing about the central causes of the fish kill — the high conductivity in the stream, an indication of high dissolved solids such as chlorides coming from the area’s coal-mine discharges. There have been some indications that Dunkard Creek might be a wake-up call for WVDEP about these problems.

And in its Sept. 30 letter approving the state’s cleanup plan, EPA said “additional action may prove necessary.” The EPA letter continued:

EPA anticipates that information developed as a result of the investigation may necessitate development of new TMDLs and/or other actions, such as enforcement. EPA intends to coordinate closely with WVDEP to evaluate new information generated by the investigation into this fish kill and to devise an appropriate and timely response.

Meanwhile,  Betty Wiley, president of the Dunkard Creek Watershed Association, told Hopey that a preliminary estimate put the cost of restoring Dunkard Creek at $30 million.