Cleaning Up Pollution from Old Mines

by Tom Damm

Officials celebrate progress

Officials celebrate progress

It was a day of celebration along the water’s edge in West Virginia.

On a recent Friday afternoon, U.S. EPA, West Virginia officials and other partners marked early success in reviving a long-dead stretch of Muddy Creek in Preston County.

Hours later and a few miles away, the local folk group, Meadow Run, struck up its first song to kick off the 25th Annual Cheat River Festival, a tribute to sustained efforts led by the non-profit, Friends of the Cheat, to restore the Cheat River and tributaries like Muddy Creek.

The lower 3.4 miles of Muddy Creek had been ruined for decades by a pair of infamous mine blowouts and an orange tide of acidic pollution.

But an innovative regulatory approach by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and EPA is working to clean the troubled section and bring fish back to its waters.

Speaking at an event in the shadow of a creek-side treatment plant that scrubs a steady flow of polluted mine water, EPA’s Kate McManus praised the state-federal cooperation that led to the improvements.

“This is a great example of what we can accomplish when we work together and use common sense approaches,” said Kate, deputy director of EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Water Division.

Cleaning the water

Cleaning the water

The treatment plant is part of a strategy that includes a regulatory fix to treat mine water from all sources in the watershed. EPA approved a variance and worked with the state to develop a first-of-its-kind permit in West Virginia incorporating “in-stream” techniques to neutralize acidity and reduce metals.

EPA also provided Clean Water Act funding for Muddy Creek improvements, as it did when the agency financed projects to help restore the Cheat River.

Well before festival favorite, Stewed Mulligan, wrapped up the first day of the Cheat Fest, the crowd had been given the good news of improvements in the local waters, making the group’s “old backwoods sound with a string band tradition” that much sweeter.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Division.

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