The water cycle is simple: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration — and repeat. Simple, but only part of the story. Thanks to legacy left behind from coal mining, the water in our Blackwater River can become far more than simply a mix of hydrogen and oxygen. Here’s how:
The Upper Freeport coal seam dips downhill towards the North Fork of the Blackwater. Mining in the North Fork valley created a subterranean maze of straightaways and hard angle turns. As the maze expanded, miners would encounter groundwater, which flows along the interconnected tunnels and “pools” at low points in the network. During mining, pooled water was pumped to the surface, but once the coal mine was played out and abandoned, the Coketon Mine Pool began to form.
That pooled water became acidic from sulfur-containing minerals, and laced with dissolved iron, aluminum and manganese. As the pool grew, its surface reached the same elevation as the mine opening or portal, and the water had a pathway back to the surface — and the North Fork.
Today, if a drop of rainwater falls in the North Fork watershed, there is a chance that its destiny is to become acid mine drainage. Over time, the supply of pyritic material in the mine pool will eventually be exhausted. Until then, acid mine drainage will continue to form — and if not converted into a more ecologically friendly form, will keep the river from becoming the life-sustaining resource it should be.
That project – of neutralizing the acidity and removing the pollutants – is a main task of our North Fork Watershed project. Thanks to FOB supporters who make this work possible!