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
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.