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

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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.

FY18 WVWRI & USGS 104B Request for Proposals

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

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WV Water Research Institute releases Request for Proposals

The WV Water Research Institute is requesting proposals for research expected to be funded March 1, 2018 through February 28, 2019. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Department of the Interior, will sponsor the research. Faculty from all WV Colleges and universities are encouraged to submit proposals. It is expected that three to five projects will be funded in the range of $10,000 – $20,000 each. Areas of Emphasis/Research Priorities for the State of West Virginia are listed below.

Water Metrics
• THM’s-factors controlling PSD exceedances*
• Bromide sources-sources, mass balance in streams, factors controlling stream concentrations, impacts*
• Policy options proven to protect water resources that could help WV

Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources
• Watershed management to reduce flooding
• Project changes in storm hydrographs
• Baseflow indices at the watershed level
• Pooling water resources for use during drought

Industrial Processes and Urban Sprawl
• Withdrawals/consumptions
• UIC’s Issues with permitting, compliance, safety

Proposals under this announcement must be submitted through the internet site at niwr.net. Proposals are due by 5:00 pm Eastern Standard Time December 15, 2017.

Download and view the RFP

WVU Study of Rare Earth Elements Moves to Second Phase

Written by Andrew Stacy on . Posted in Media, News, Press Release

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A picture of the WVU Rare Earth Element Project Team.

Members of the Rare Earth Recovery team with a sample of AMD based rare earth feedstocks, Wednesday, August 23, 2017.
Back Row (left to right): Chris Vass, REE extraction plant operator; Dr. Aaron Noble, associate professor, Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering, Virginia Tech; Dr. Xingbo Liu, professor of mechanical engineering, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, West Virginia University; John Adams, West Virginia University Energy Institute. Front Row: Jennifer Hause, project coordinator, West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University; Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director, West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory has selected West Virginia University to move forward with its program to extract valuable rare earth elements, vital to the technology industry, from coal mining by-products.

Phase two of the WVU project – which includes $3.38 million of federal and industry funding – will demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of extracting rare earth elements from acid mine drainage, or AMD. The selection follows two earlier NETL awards to study AMD as a feedstock to bolster U.S. domestic supplies of rare earth elements.

Rare Earth Elements have significant value, being used in modern technologies such as cell phones, rechargeable batteries, DVDs, GPS equipment, medical equipment and various defense applications. Conventional rare earth recovery methods are difficult, expensive and generate large volumes of contaminated waste. Because of this, the U.S. imports nearly all of its rare earth needs from China.

WVU’s project, “Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from Coal Mine Drainage,” will develop a new, domestic source of rare earth elements that will be easily extracted, operate on already permitted sites and produce negligible, new waste materials. In fact, the process may emerge as a way for land owners to generate income from formerly mined properties.

“Mine drainage from abandoned mines is the biggest industrial pollution source in Appalachian streams,” said Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of West Virginia Water Research Institute and principal investigator on the project.

“As a result, lots of streams that were once ecologically dead, such as the Monongahela and Cheat Rivers, are now valuable recreational fisheries.

“When NETL announced its interest in rare earth recovery it became clear that the mine drainage could be an attractive feedstock for rare earth production. Our research has since focused on finding ways to capture this rare earth resource while incentivizing mine drainage treatment. This project will be a perfect fit to WVU’s mission to create economic opportunity for West Virginians.”

Ziemkiewicz, along with co-investigators Dr. Xingbo Liu, professor of mechanical engineering from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at WVU and Dr. Aaron Noble, associate professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering will install a small-scale, continuous extraction facility on the WVU campus.

“The economics of recovering rare earth elements from coal mine drainage appear favorable, and this project will give us the opportunity to develop and optimize the critical separation technologies that will enable commercial-scale production,” said Noble.

The research team will partner with Rockwell Automation to adapt their sensor and control technology and facilitate market readiness. Paul McRoberts and Pete Morell will represent Rockwell Automation on the project team. A global supplier of controls, the company will ensure the success of the project by providing solutions and support services to manage the complex components that will comprise the rare earth extraction process.

John Adams from the WVU Energy Institute will then develop a commercialization plan to move the technology into the marketplace.

-WVU-

ahs/08/24/2017

CONTACT: Paul Ziemkiewicz, West Virginia Water Research Institute
304.293.6958, paul.ziemkiewicz@mail.wvu.edu

Related Press Releases:

    – Appalachian Coal Mine Waste Could Provide Key Ingredients for Clean Energy
    – WVU Study Will Determine Amount of Rare Earth Elements in Region’s Coal Mining Waste
    – WVU Leads Efforts to Study Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from Coal Mining Waste

WVWRI Research Program Introduces Scouts to the Environmental Sciences

Written by Andrew Stacy on . Posted in Events, News, Press Release

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Scouts examine an aquatic display.

Scouts examine an aquatic display.

This summer, the West Virginia Water Research Institute will roll out an exciting new program as part of the 2017 National Scout Jamboree held at the Boy Scouts of America’s Summit Bechtel Reserve near Mount Hope, West Virginia.

The West Virginia Outdoor Learning Lab will introduce scouts to the world of environmental science, technology, engineering and math (E-STEM). The Lab will include a series of fun hands-on outdoor activities centered on the BSA.

Through the program, scouts will earn a patch while learning about ecology, biology, water science, wildlife and wetlands. To earn the patch, scouts must pick up a WVOLL activity book and complete four out of the eight activities over the course of the Jamboree. The scouts will use observational skills, critical thinking and modern technology to take measurements, enter data and plot simple graphs to see the results.

“Today’s scouts are computer-savvy and our program will integrate their existing skills with their interest in understanding natural processes. This, in turn, will be a gateway to pursuing higher education in the E-STEM fields and, perhaps careers,” said Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University.

Over the past year, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences have worked with WVWRI staff and the BSA to install a network of research equipment to study the climate and ecological makeup of the Reserve. The research forms the basis of a unique interactive curriculum that engages the scouts through E-STEM activities.

The team includes Jim Anderson, professor of wildlife and fisheries resources, Nicolas Zegre, associate professor of forest hydrology, Richard Thomas, professor of biology, Dave Smaldone, associate professor of resource recreation and tourism and Eric Merriam, post-doctoral research assistant.

“We are really excited to showcase this project at the Jamboree,” said Andrew Stacy, WVOLL project manager.
“I think the scouts will enjoy the program we’ve put together. The activities are based outdoors and are fun, interactive and will challenge the scouts to apply themselves.”

The reserve is the BSA’s newest high-adventure camp and is adjacent to the New River Gorge National River and more than 13 miles of the property border the park, providing access to more than 70,000 acres of managed, Appalachian highlands wilderness beyond the summit property. Approximately, 40,000 scouts are expected to be on site for the 2017 National Scout Jamboree, which takes place July 19-28, with about 20,000 cycling through the site every two weeks during the remainder of the summer.

-WVU-

CONTACT: Andrew Stacy, West Virginia Water Research Institute
304.293.7085, astacy@mail.wvu.edu