DEP Keeps an Eye on River Flow

Dry weather spikes level of pollutants

Morgantown Dominion Post
20 July 2012
By David Beard

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) continues to keep its eye on its portion of meandering Dunkard Creek, and Dunkard’s outflow into the Monongahela River.

The DEP recently increased water testing because of low water levels and higher levels of total dissolved solids (TDS) in the creek. They were last out on Tuesday, and will return early next week at the latest.

Several factors are playing into the increased testing, DEP Southwest Region spokesman John Poister said. One is the dry weather. Low water flows are typical in July and August, but this year has been exceptionally dry — starting with the warm and relatively snowless winter. One inspector told him that mid-July levels are looking more like August.

Lower water levels can lead to higher TDS concentrations.

Another factor, he said, is Dana Mining Co.’s Steele Shaft mine water treatment plant.

Dana, he said, has voluntarily drastically reduced its permitted discharges into the creek during this low-flow period, but the company is facing a conundrum: It’s storing the water in abandoned mines and will eventually run out of space.

For several years, Poister said, Dana worked to time its discharges so they don’t “make up the majority of the water in the creek” and overload it with TDS. This year is more difficult. “The dry, hot weather has just exacerbated the situation.”

Poister said Dana isn’t required to tell the DEP when it discharges, but it remains in close contact with the agency.

This week’s rains, Poister said, have helped a bit. TDS levels have dropped in the Mon.

On the West Virginia side, John Wirts is assistant director of the West Virginia DEP’s Division of Water and Waste management, and heads the Watershed Assessment Branch.
“We haven’t really stepped up in response to that,” Wirts said, but they have continuous monitors at four locations, including the point at Mason-Dixon Park in western Monongalia County where the creek leaves West Virginia for the last time.

In their periodic checks, they’ve seen “nothing of concern.” There have been a few spikes, but nothing like the levels of fall 2009, when a golden algae bloom caused a massive fish kill.

CONSOL Energy has permits to discharge mine water into Dunkard’s West Virginia side, but Wirts said CONSOL only does that during high-flow times.

Wirts said the two state DEPs talked regularly during the response to the fish kill, but “as a matter of practice” don’t keep in close touch now.

Dana Mining could not be reached in time for this report.