North Fork of the Blackwater
Pop quiz: what is red and white and weighs 400 pounds?
No, it’s not the world’s largest candy cane. It’s the DAILY weight of dissolved iron and aluminum in the acid mine drainage (“AMD”) that is coming out of the underground “Coketon Mine Pool” (old collapsed and abandoned mine workings) and into the North Fork!
It has been four months since Friends of Blackwater staff and our consultants began work on designs for treatment to reduce this pollution. Now our engineering partner, BioMost Inc, has completed an initial analysis. Here are the results.
AMD treatment systems are categorized as either active or passive. Both types use carbonate to neutralize pH and encourage precipitation of dissolved metals. Passive systems have lower long-term operation and maintenance costs, but are limited in their ability to handle high acidity and/or flows. Active systems can be scaled to accommodate any conditions, but they require an ongoing input of fresh carbonate material — which can drive up costs.
BioMost estimated that constructing a passive system would cost around 8 million dollars, and require nearly 30 acres — due to the large volume of polluted water — 2.5 million gallons being discharged from the underground mine pool every day. By comparison, an active system is estimated to cost 1.4 million dollars and will fit on 3 acres. Friends of Blackwater will be pursuing the active system option moving forward, and we are presently looking into funding options.
Due to these findings, reconstructing the non-functioning passive system adjacent to the Blackwater Railroad Grade is not a viable option. Rather than expend significant resources on a pointless endeavor, we will be focusing on steps toward implementing an active system.
Last year, Friends of Blackwater expanded water monitoring into the Beaver Creek watershed in Tucker County. Beaver Creek and one of its two tributaries are on the WV state 303(d) list of impaired streams for pH, iron and aluminum. Above the confluence with Beaver Creek, the Blackwater River and its tributaries are of high quality, which makes Beaver Creek the uppermost and initial source of impairment for the Blackwater River.
Friends of Blackwater received a grant from the WV Department of Environmental Protection to develop a Watershed Based Plan (“WBP”) for Beaver Creek. A WBP is a coordinating framework to organize efforts to identify, prioritize and then implement activities to address water-related problems. To that end we have been spending significant time and effort to build partnerships with area stakeholders — including government agencies, private businesses and other non-profits.
At the end of October, we hosted a meeting with more than a dozen individuals to begin exploring the current state of the watershed, the projects currently being pursued by each group, and to lay out our varying visions for the future. One of the first tasks to address was compiling existing data. We are coordinating this effort by hosting, mapping and analyzing data, and will ultimately use this information to develop the final WBP document.
Given its current level of mild impairment and the emerging cooperative partnership, we feel confident that recovering Beaver Creek is an attainable goal. Developing and submitting a Watershed Based Plan will be the first step. Thanks to all the FOB supporters whose generosity and concern is helping to move these streams toward greater health for our community.