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Dunkard Creek Still Dead!
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by Jim Kotcon | 2010

ConSol appeals on a DEP-mandated cleanup have made a bad situation much worse!

While a fish kill in Monongalia County’s Dunkard Creek that began in early September appears to have abated, the underlying problems appear more intractable than ever.

Problems appear to have started as early as 2002, when ConSol Energy reported that they were exceeding permit limits for chlorides and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS, including compounds such as calcium sulfate) being discharged from the Blacksville #2 mine. WV-DEP mandated a clean-up plan, which ConSol appealed. Although several years were allowed for ConSol to clean up their TDS discharges, no effective treatment was installed. Instead, ConSol filed one appeal after another seeking delays and relaxed standards. As recently as 2007, WV-DEP told ConSol that they must clean up. Then in early 2008, DEP approved a “clean-up plan” that delayed any actual pollution reductions until 2013, and in 2009, DEP submitted a TMDL that stalled any action on chlorides or TDS. DEP justified the delays because they had not found major adverse impacts to the fish and aquatic life in the stream.

About this same time, the pollution discharges from ConSol appear to have increased dramatically. In addition, there may have been significant dumping of brines and gas well fluids, either directly into the Creek, or into adjacent mine pools that eventually found their way to the Creek. And in late summer of 2009, a bloom of an invasive marine algae appeared in Dunkard Creek. The Golden Algae, so named because of the yellow color produced in the stream, also released a toxin that killed most gill-breathing animals.

Most fish and all 17 species of mussels were wiped out in a few weeks. This Golden Algae appears to thrive in brackish to salty water, conditions produced by the TDS discharges. The WV Department of Natural Resources says they have no plans to re-stock fish in Dunkard Creek because the underlying pollution problems means that the Golden Algae is likely to cause additional fish kills in future years, and there is n point trying to re-establish the fishery as long as the pollution discharges continue to create ideal conditions for another Golden Algae bloom.

To make matters worse, WV-DEP reports that up to 21 streams in West Virginia, including streams in the Potomac, Kanawha, and Ohio River watersheds, have TDS levels that suggest they could be vulnerable to invasion by the Golden Algae. And tentative reports suggest that the Golden Algae has already spread to at least one other stream, and possibly as many as six.

Legislation to establish tighter water quality standards for TDS, restrictions on unregulated water withdrawals and discharges, and other water quality protections is being developed. Be on the lookout for this legislation in the 2010 session.

What You Can Do:

Write Governor Manchin and ask him to support tighter standards and tougher enforcement for TDS discharges. Ask that he take every reasonable precaution to minimize the spread of Golden Algae, and halt the pollution discharges that allow these marine algae to thrive in supposedly fresh water streams. Call Jim Kotcon at 304-594-3322 for more information.

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