Three Years After Massive Fish Kill, Dunkard Creek Rebounding

Charleston Gazette
17 September 2012
By The Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Three years after a massive fish kill, Dunkard Creek is rebounding.

Thousands of fish, salamanders and mussels died when golden algae bloomed in the Monongalia County stream that meanders along the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border in 2009. The Environmental Protection Agency said it was the first documented case of a Prymnesium Parvum, or golden algae bloom, in the Mid-Atlantic states.

A year later, another fish kill was thought to have been caused by a chemical entering the stream.

But Division of Natural Resources Fisheries biologist Frank Jernejcic said recent testing shows that 95 percent of species are back.

"I fished the stream in May, and probably caught a dozen smallmouth bass, in a three-mile stretch; they were mainly 12- to 16-inch fish [and] that was the best fishing I have had in 20, 25 years of fishing this stream. So that was a pleasant surprise,'' Jernejcic told West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

The exception is the creek's mussel population, but the agency is working to restore the species. The department is raising young mussels in a hatchery and then putting them in contact with a fish. The mussels attach to the fish's gills and the fish is stocked into the creek.

Dunkard Creek Watershed Association President Betty Wiley said it took the disaster to create an awareness of the creek's importance.

"Dunkard Creek is, like all streams, a very vulnerable part of our lives and our watershed,'' she said. "It just runs through and anybody can throw anything in it. ... People don't even realize how important it is until something horrible happens.''

Environmental agencies concluded mining discharges in the area helped create the conditions for the algae bloom in 2009. Consol Energy is building a water treatment plant in the area to treat its mining discharges, which is scheduled to start operating next year.

Those who work to restore the river say it's a valuable part of the area's history.

In the mid-1700s, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon -- namesakes of the "Mason-Dixon Line'' -- crossed the area while doing surveying and encountered a German religious sect who lived in the area. The group was called the Dunkards because they dunked people when they baptized them, Wiley said.

The 2009 fish kill brought a lot of attention to the stream, prompting a traveling art exhibit and a play called "Dead Fish Rising,'' performed in nearby Mount Morris, Pa., last year.

"It's very gratifying and [a] positive view for the future, to know that people have cared about this and put their talents to drawing attention to it,'' Wiley said. "It was amazing, what the end result was.''

Wiley said Dunkard Creek isn't as nice as it was when she was a kid, but protecting it will always be a labor of love.

"To me, Dunkard Creek runs through my bloodstream sort of,'' she said. "I grew up right beside the creek, and I can only say that I love it, and it is very important to a lot of people, especially to me.''