DEP Says More Testing for TDS in Dunkard and Mon

Washington PA Observer Reporter
17 July 2012

The state Department of Environmental Protection will increase testing in Dunkard Creek and in parts of the Monongahela River because of low water flow and the high levels of total dissolved solids in Dunkard Creek.

“We are concerned about the high conductivity we have seen in Dunkard Creek and as a result, more inspections have been ordered,” DEP spokesman John Poister said Monday.

DEP will “intensify” testing in the creek as well as in parts of the Mon, which is the source of drinking water for more than 350,000 people in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“We don’t want to have another situation where we’re dealing with the issue of high levels of TDS on the Mon,” Poister said.

TDS levels in the Mon remain below the state standard of 500 parts per million but have been increasing and are approach the state standard, he said. High TDS levels in Dunkard Creek was a “tipoff we should be vigilant,” Poister said.

Elevated TDS levels were a problem in the Mon in late 2008. Though the high levels posed no threats to health and safety it did cause problems for industrial water customers.

TDS levels in the lower Dunkard, measured near Bobtown, started to increase in the last few weeks and continued that climb through Monday.

Monday afternoon, the conductivity reading at the gauge near Bobtown exceeded 5,720 microsiemens per centimeter, which equals about 3,660 parts per million TDS.

DEP has attributed the high TDS levels in Dunkard Creek to low water flow, discharges from abandoned mines and the discharge from the Steele Shaft mine water treatment plant.

Rainfall in the watershed is down about 3 inches for the year and are at August levels, Poister said. “There’s a serious flow problem and unless we get a lot of rain the situation is only going to get worse.”

High levels of TDS in Dunkard Creek were determined to have created conditions for a bloom of Golden Algae that led to a massive fish kill in the upper and middle portions of the creek three years ago.

Because of the low flow in the creek, the mine water discharge from the Steele Shaft treatment plant, a major source of TDS in the lower Dunkard, has been curtailed, Poister said.

The Steele Shaft plant is operated by the Dana Mining Co. to de-water the abandoned Shannopin Mine and other closed mines in the area in which Dana mines coal. The plant treats the mine water for acidity and heavy metals, but not for TDS.

Dana agreed to reduce its discharge into the creek during low flow, diverting the water into another closed underground mine.

Dana must pump water from the closed mines to continue its mining operations. The company has reduced its discharge during the last couple of week. However, “There’s going to be a period of time when they are going to have to make a discharge, because the mine is filling with water,” Poister said.

DEP doesn’t know when that will be but is concerned because the Steele Shaft discharge now makes up a high percentage of the water in Dunkard Creek.

The high levels of TDS in water from the Steele Shaft discharge has been an issue for several years.

The Steele Shaft plant was built to prevent a threatened breakout from the Shannopin Mine. Dana later began also treating water at Steele Shaft from the closed Humphrey Mine as its mining operations moved into the Humphrey Mine area.

“The problem that exists in Dunkard Creek is from the Steele Shaft and it shouldn’t be that way,” said Sandy Liebhold of the Friends of Dunkard Creek.

Steele Shaft was developed to treat water from the Shannopin Mine. No similar threat of a breakout exists at the Humphrey Mine, water from which is being treated by the mine’s owner, Consol Energy. Steele Shaft only minimally treats the water and does not remove the TDS. It is treating water from Humphrey only to allow Dana to continue to mine, Liebhold said.