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From Polluted to Playground: It’s Taken 25 Years to Clean up the Cheat River

Written by mkruger on . Posted in Media, News, Press Release

Story by Brittany Patterson, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On a recent sunny Wednesday, Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University, was standing on a bridge looking out at Big Sandy Creek. It was a balmy afternoon, perfect for kayaking, and the creek running the Cheat River was clear. But 25 years ago, this water was a shocking orange color — from acid mine drainage.

Paul Ziemkiewicz. Photo by Brittany Patterson, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“Look at this,” Ziemkiewicz said, gesturing to the raging water below. “This is a fishery now, but it was completely dead back then.”

This year the last heavily-polluted stretch of the watershed is set to be cleaned up.

“In my lifetime a river that was dead has now come back,” said Amanda Pitzer, executive director of Friends of the Cheat, a local conservation group that was formed by a motley crew of river guides and enthusiasts in 1994 to deal with acid mine pollution. The group also hosts the annual Cheat River Festival to celebrate the river and raise money to restore it.

Ziemkiewicz said originally in the Cheat River watershed — as is the case in many places dealing with AMD across Appalachia — regulators tried to address the problem by treating each individual mine contributing pollution to the river. But it’s not always effective.

“You can throw almost infinite amounts of money trying to treat point sources like that in a watershed like this that has both abandoned mines and also bond forfeiture sites and not make any impact at all on the quality of the stream because the abandoned mines dominate the whole picture,” he said.

A key piece to making this new approach work was some innovative thinking on the part of state regulators. The state DEP created an alternative clean water permit, which allowed the agency to address streamwide water quality, rather than treat individual pollution sources.

“The watershed scale strategy that DEP is using here actually restores the creek and for a lot less money,” Ziemkiewicz said.

Passive treatment system. Photo by Brittany Patterson, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Standing in a grassy clearing overlooking this forested valley, it’s just possible to see the entry to a now-abandoned coal mine here in the headwaters of Sovern Run, a tributary of Big Sandy Creek, which runs into the Cheat.

Ziemkiewicz and his team built what’s called a “passive treatment” system. At Sovern site No. 62, AMD pollution flows through a series of limestone-lined ponds and channels. The alkaline limestone turns low pH, acid water coming out of the mine into much cleaner water through naturally-occurring chemical reactions. Passive systems don’t require power or the addition of chemicals and are often lower maintenance.

“We were able to knock off something like 80 percent of the acid load, most of the iron,” Ziemkiewicz said, of the passive treatment system. “The idea was to put a lot of these all over the watershed.”

To listen to or read the full story, go to the West Virginia Public Broadcasting website.

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West Virginia Water Research Institute to host state water conference; announce call for abstracts

Written by mkruger on . Posted in Events, News

The 2018 West Virginia State Water Conference will take place September 27-28, 2018 at Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place in Morgantown, WV.

The Conference Planning Committee is now accepting abstracts. To submit an abstract for an oral or poster presentation, complete the form below by June 30, 2018. The theme for the conference is “WATERExploring the Understanding, Significance, and Power of Life’s Critical Resource“. Researchers and educators from colleges and universities, state and federal agencies, private organizations, consulting firms, industry, and students are invited to submit abstracts for consideration for oral and poster presentation. This year’s conference will also have a strong environmental STEAM education component, so researchers and educators in the STEM/STEAM education field are encouraged to submit an abstract.

Abstract Submission

Abstracts must include sufficient content and information for adequate evaluation by the Conference Planning Committee. The Planning Committee reserves the right to accept, place in oral or poster session, or reject the paper. Abstracts are to be submitted via the link below. The abstract submission deadline is June 30, 2018.

By July 15, 2018, the Conference Planning Committee will inform submitting authors of their paper’s status. All accepted presenters will receive a discounted conference registration.

Questions

If you have questions or need assistance, please contact:
Megan Kruger
Conference Coordinator
(304) 293-7009
wvwaterconference@mail.wvu.edu

Submit Abstract Now!

Conference Website