It’s Still Not Water Under the Bridge

DEP should review its oversight policy on Dunkard Creek in light of conditions

Morgantown Dominion Post - EDITORIAL
30 July 2012

Though the exact time is subject to change, it has to be so dark before you can actually see the stars.

We are beginning to wonder if the state Department of Environmental Protection applies a similar measure to how it monitors Dunkard Creek’s marine species. Is it when they start floating before it begins more frequent monitoring?

Recently, we reported on the efforts by West Virginia and Pennsylvania’s departments of environmental protection (DEP) to record Dunkard Creek’s water quality.

The stream meanders through nearly 37 miles of Greene County, Pa., and Monongalia County until emptying into the Monongahela River near Point Marion, Pa.

Almost three years ago, this waterway was the site of a disastrous fish kill that devastated scores of species of fish and other marine life.

Extraordinarily high levels of TDS in the water then — in September 2009 — resulted in a golden algal bloom, poisoning the waterway.

Since then, both states’ DEPs have taken significant steps to ensure such a disaster does not reoccur, including increased water quality testing to determine the stream’s levels of total dissolved solids (TDS).

But earlier this month, we learned that although Pennsylvania’s DEP has recently stepped up its monitoring as a result of the unusually low water levels, it’s business as usual for West Virginia’s DEP.

Admittedly, our state’s DEP has four continuous monitors along Dunkard Creek. However, they are not even checked weekly, to the best of our knowledge.

There also appears to be infrequent, at best, communication among the two states’ agencies on their testing data and other observations.

Far be it from us to pretend to be environmental engineers. However, since last winter’s lack of snowfall and this year’s abnormally dry conditions — despite recent rainfall — we think our state’s DEP should keep a closer eye on Dunkard Creek’s water quality.

At least bi-monthly exchanges between the two states’ DEPs are also advised, under the circumstances.

Though we trust mining operations that are permitted to use this stream to discharge mine water are acting accordingly due to its low water levels, that still should be verified.

We are inclined to believe that water quality has been substantially improved in Dunkard Creek, forever. Yet, the best way to ensure that is frequent testing, cooperation among agencies and public awareness.

This creek has already made history, once. If we fail to learn from that event and look below its surface, we could still repeat it.