Coal Tattoo

WVDEP releases Prenter water study

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Here’s the release just issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection:

A year-long study commissioned by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection on water supplies in the Prenter/Sand Lick area of Boone County did not reveal evidence of widespread mining-induced impacts to groundwater quality in the study area.

The study, which began in December 2010, was conducted by Triad Engineering, of Scott Depot, and was ordered by the DEP to evaluate allegations of negative impacts to the quality of groundwater being used as a drinking source by residents in the study area. Triad was asked to determine what human activity, including coal mining and mining-related activities, might have negatively affected drinking water sources.

The study area included all residences along Hopkins Fork of the Big Coal River and tributaries of Hopkins Fork from Seth to Prenter. A large portion of the study area, from Seth, upstream to Nelson, now has public water.

Domestic wells sampled for water quality were well distributed across the entire watershed, and therefore provided a representative characterization of groundwater quality in the study area.

“This was a thorough, comprehensive study,” DEP Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman said. “I hope the results help put the people in the Prenter community at ease because we can point to laboratory test results from the wells that say the water quality is within Primary Drinking Water Standards.”

In producing its study, Triad personnel completed extensive research into the geology and hydrology of the study area and reviewed published reports and previously collected water quality data; visited more than 100 homes for interviews and obtained permission to collect samples from 33 domestic wells; collected samples from surface water, mine discharges, valley fill discharges and coal slurry; and conducted two public meetings in the study area to advise residents of the study and to encourage their participation.

Water samples collected were analyzed for metals referenced in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Primary Drinking Water Standards; all Secondary Drinking Water Standards; total and fecal coliform; indicators of mine drainage such as acidity/alkalinity, iron, manganese, aluminum and sulfate; and the volatile organic compounds typically found in petroleum products such as paints and industrial solvents. Samples also were analyzed for calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, carbonate and bicarbonate.

Of the 33 domestic wells sampled for water quality, the study found that none exceeded the Primary Drinking Water Standards for metals. Primary Standards are enforceable standards based on potential health risks. Secondary Standards are non-enforceable guidelines regulating contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects such as skin or tooth discoloration or affect the taste, odor or color of drinking water.

Two domestic wells located in the Hopkins Fork Watershed, adjacent to a reclaimed surface mine operation, showed the greatest evidence of mine-related impact. The wells had elevated sulfate, iron, manganese and aluminum, but, according to the study, further investigation would be needed to confirm or refute these potential impacts. Neither well owner uses groundwater as a drinking water source.

“We did not find the widespread problems that are alleged to exist in the study area,” Secretary Huffman said, “but we did find an isolated area that deserves more attention on our part. We will be reaching out to those well owners in the coming weeks to investigate further.”

Nearly one-half of the residents interviewed as part of the study reported objectionable odors or colors to their water but there was a very poor correlation between resident complaints about odor or color and lab analytical results. Of the 13 residents offering the strongest complaints, only four samples actually contained elevated sulfate levels. The study found that complaints regarding odors and coloration are most likely related to iron and sulfate metabolizing bacteria, rather than human impacts.

The study found that groundwater flow within the study area is very localized and wells situated near one another often penetrate different rock formations, therefore yielding different water quality. The study found that large scale impacts to groundwater quality are unlikely.

“What we saw was typical water for southern West Virginia,” said John Meeks, Triad Engineering’s senior geologist for the study. “Water quality was actually better than that reported by the U.S. Geological Survey for this part of the state.”

The study cost roughly $130,000.

The study is online at WVDEP’s Website and the agency has also posted a “Fact Sheet” here … check the Gazette later for a more complete story.