DEP Looking at Algae in Dunkard for Toxin Source

Officials:Years Needed to Restore Creek

Morgantown Dominion Post
22 September 2009
By Tracy Eddy

Officials said it would take a few years to replenish the fish population in Dunkard Creek, once the creek starts to recover from whatever is killing the fish and turning the water a rust color.

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection investigators are still working with several agencies to determine what is polluting the water. According to a press release issued by the DEP, investigators are now looking to see whether algae or some similar growth could be contributing to the pollution.

Algae sometimes produces toxins, the release stated.

Frank Jernejcic, District 1 fisheries biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, said once the creek starts to recover, the DNR will start a “restocking program” and bring in the types of fish that used to live in the creek, such as bass and muskies.
But the creek’s mussel population would not be able to be replenished, he said — at least not in our lifetime. “It’s horrible,” he said.
Dunkard Creek was home to about eight or 10 different species of mussels, Jernejcic said. It is one of two tributary creeks in the West Virginia stretch of the Monongahela River that had mussels.

Jernejcic said mussels are “very, very slow” to colonize, and they don’t occur in a lot of places so they would be harder to get.

“I’m not saying it won’t be tried,” he said. “But it won’t be an easy thing.” Residents living along Dunkard Creek — in West Virginia and Pennsylvania — have reported hundreds of dead fish and other wildlife since Sept. 3.

About a 25 mile stretch of the creek was affected by the pollution. Jernejcic said he’s been down at the creek every day for the past few weeks, counting dead fish, but he didn’t have the exact figures for how many had died yet.

Several agencies, including the Pennsylvania and West Virginia DEPs, the West Virginia DNR, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and WVU have been investigating the fish kill — testing creek water and taking fish blood, and organ and tissue samples — to try to determine the cause and a cure for the creek.

Jernejcic said they were still waiting for the test results.

Officials previously hypothesized that the Blacksville No. 2 coal mine could be discharging pollution into the Dunkard Creek, but last week, officials found dead fish about 1.5 miles upstream from the mine.

CONSOL Senior Vice President Tom Hoffman said the Blacksville No. 2 mine stopped discharging water into Dunkard Creek late last week.

Hoffman said CONSOL agreed to shut down the outlet to help with the investigation into whether or not the coal mine was contributing to the pollution in the creek.

“We’ve been working very closely with them,” he said.

The coal mine had a permit to discharge water into Dunkard Creek, he said, and had been doing so all year. The water is from acid mine drainage that is treated at a facility near the mine, Hoffman said.

According to the DEP’s press release, the agencies involved in the investigation are looking at several different possible causes for the pollution, which is why it is taking “longer to solve.”