Streams Afloat With Vital Data

Morgantown Dominion Post
12 January 2015

Dominion Post Commentary

You can refer to it as a grassroots movement.

But it would be a lot more accurate to describe its as a “cold stream” movement.

Recently, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition announced it was partnering with Trout Unlimited on a volunteer stream monitoring program.

That might sound like the kind of routine press release that falls on our desks every day. Of course, the request for volunteers part of it is routine.

However, a non-government, statewide project in response to the increasing activity in the shale gas regions of the state is not just water over the dam.

Matter of fact, this widespread effort to record and collect a baseline of watershed health data and establish an early warning system for these streams is treading new water, so to speak.

Clearly, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the shale gas industry have a legally bound obligation to protect these cold water streams, too.

Yet, the DEP’s manpower, funding and resources cannot provide for such an extensive monitoring system.

It’s also safe to say there are bad actors in the shale gas industry, as in every industry, that cannot be counted on to do the right thing.

To date, the volunteer monitoring program has assigned more than 100 participants to sites on 90 streams across the state.

These volunteers are trained to not only detect pollution, but to also contact the DEP and others in the event of potential or actual pollution.

Some may say this sounds like a lot of effort to protect a bunch of fish.

To those people we say, those fish are much like the canary in the coal mine.

But unlike canaries, fish don’t sing. However, when trout are found floating on a stream’s surface or show other signs of distress, that’s generally a sure sign the stream is polluted.

No one is casting blame here at every shale gas drilling operation in the state. But it’s already assumed that with shale gas drilling on the rise there is a potential for a negative impact on water.

These cold water streams are also the most sensitive waterways to pollution that are home to some unique forms of aquatic life, including the eastern brook trout, native to West Virginia.

We applaud this effort by these organizations and urge people to volunteer for this program.

None of us can part seas, but any of us can monitor a stream.

The next training session is Jan. 24, at WVU. To learn more, call 304-637-7201.