Dunkard Creek Recovers from 2009 Fish Kill
15 October 2016
By Don Hopey
MOUNT MORRIS, Pa. — Smallmouth bass are thriving in Dunkard Creek
seven years after one of the largest fish kills in the history of
the state. Musky, walleye and sauger populations are starting to
fin in the right direction too.
But a state Fish and Boat Commission stream assessment also found
that native rock bass, carp, freshwater clams and mudpuppies — a
kind of giant salamander with gills — have failed to
repopulate a 37-mile-long segment of the creek that snakes along
the Mason-Dixon Line separating West Virginia and the southwest
corner of Pennsylvania.
That uneven recovery of ecologically important species is a sign
that water quality problems remain in what was one of Western
Pennsylvania’s most species-diverse creeks, said Rick Lorson, the
commission’s area fisheries manager.
“The smallmouth bass numbers are a good sign, but the rock bass
populations are still in decline and have not recovered. That’s a
red flag that may indicate they are pollution intolerant,” Mr.
Lorson said Thursday during a meeting at the Mount Morris
Sportsmen Club to review the study findings.
“There are some issues at the Dana Mine discharge and we’ll want
to investigate its impact on the creek,” he said. “If those issues
are chronic, it impacts the fish population.”
The creek’s aquatic life was smothered in September 2009 when
salty pollutants discharged from Consol Energy’s Blacksville No. 2
mine spawned a toxic bloom of golden algae. The algae killed
approximately 43,000 fish, more than 15,000 freshwater mussels and
6,000 mudpuppies, according to commission estimates.
Chris Urban, chief of the commission’s Natural Diversity Section,
which deals with “critters you don’t hook or cook,” said that
while the creek is “on a trajectory towards recovery,” the stream
survey found no mudpuppies and none of the 14 species of
freshwater mollusks that inhabited the creek seven years ago.
He said a $2.5 million damage settlement reached last year with
Murray Energy Corp., which bought the Blacksville mine from
Consol, will provide money for a planned restocking of mudpuppies
and mollusks. Mr. Lorson said the commission will also
conduct a two-year rock bass stocking program in an attempt to
help that species recolonize the creek.
“I think this is encouraging overall,” said Andy Liebhold,
president of Friends of Dunkard Creek, a grassroots creek
conservation group. “A lot of fisheries are coming back, although
it’s depressing about the mollusks. My fear is that they may never
come back. They’re not charismatic but ecologically, they’re kind
Although a desalinization plant built at Blacksville is improving
water quality in the upper stretches of the creek, Mr. Lorson
warned that given the wrong stream conditions — low stream flow
and high “conductivity” pollution from the Dana Mine discharge in
a lower stretch of the creek — another fish kill could occur.
“It needs to be looked at,” he said, “and this assessment data
will allow us to do that, along with the state Department of
Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection
Don Hopey: email@example.com, 412-263-1983, or on Twitter