Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Mine drainage ruins another W.Va. stream

A spill of iron-laden, acidic mine drainage has caused a fish kill along 9 miles of Blue Creek, a bass and trout stream in eastern Kanawha County.

The spill, which began Oct. 2 or Oct. 3 in a small headwater tributary known as Morris Fork, killed fish in Blue Creek all the way down to the town of Coco. Zack Brown, district fisheries biologist for the state Division of Natural Resources, said a state-government attempt to clean up an abandoned mine actually caused the spill.

“There is a mine up on the ridge between Blue Creek and Campbell’s Creek that had been discharging water for some time,” he added. “Supposedly the [state Department of Environmental Protection] had a contractor doing some abandoned-mine cleanup work there. As I understand it, the workers were trying to do away with the old impoundment the mine discharged water into. When they opened the impoundment up, they got more water than they expected. At first the water wasn’t acidic, but the more water flowed out the more acidic it became.

“The water flowed for a week before it started producing acid and iron and started killing fish. The fish kills started happening on Oct. 3. The bottom line is that we’ve lost about 9 miles of a pretty high-quality stream. After the DEP folks get the acid problem solved, it will probably take two to three years for the stream to bounce back. I found some 13- to 15-inch smallmouths among the dead fish. Those don’t grow back overnight.”

Brown said most of the dead fish appeared to be rock bass, smallmouth bass and assorted rough fish.

“I didn’t see any trout, but I was concentrating on finding how far downstream the acid and iron had spread. It’s probable that trout were killed higher up in the watershed than I was looking,” Brown explained.

Blue Creek is not on the DNR’s put-and-take trout-stocking list, but reportedly receives stockings of fingerling brown trout from Trout Unlimited members. A private sportsman’s club reportedly stocks the stream as well.

Brown said crews managed to stop the fish kill at Coco by dumping a load of limestone sand into the stream. The limestone buffered the acid and prevented further mortality.