Muddy Creek AMD Blowout

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Update – March 8th:  Since our original sampling Thursday evening when pH was 3.65, FOC has pulled several sets of Water Quality (WQ) samples in Muddy Creek and the Cheat River downstream of Muddy. On Friday, we deployed our Muddy Creek live reading sonde, which reports live water quality data to FOC staff remotely every ten minutes. Since then, we have seen improvements in WQ, and pH at the mouth of Muddy Creek now rests at 7.10. You can track the improvements at https://wqdatalive.com/public/1128

The good news is – at this time there is no evidence of a fish kill in Cheat River. Based on our conversations with WVDNR, it appears we are out of the weeds in that regard as long as WQ is maintained as pH neutral. While this event will have serious impacts to the stream community that was beginning to reestablish in Muddy Creek, we are fortunate this event was not as extreme as the earlier blowouts that took place in the 1990s. We will continue to monitor impacts in Muddy Creek and the Cheat River mainstem. 

WVDEP have been working hard to contain and treat the acidic water created from the blowout, and our WQ testing shows that the status of Muddy Creek has improved, maintaining a pH level similar to before the blowout. An investigation is currently ongoing to identify the source of the blowout and discuss next steps on preventing a similar event in the future – this is FOC’s biggest concern at the moment in light of climate trends that predict warmer, wetter conditions and more severe flooding events for this area. FOC aims to be at the table during these discussions.

We could not thank you enough for your continued support during this painful event. We will use your donations to advocate for healthier streams, increased protections, and to push our legislators to reauthorize the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act – Abandoned Mine Lands Fee, set to expire in 2021. Without reauthorization, FOC and other groups lose a major funding source to tackle or maintain any AMD treatment sites: a scary thought after the events of last week. 

March 5th:  It is with heavy hearts that we inform our river community that there has been another blowout related to the T&T mine system, and acidic and metal laden water is again flowing through Muddy Creek.  FOC staff noticed the disturbing hue of the water yesterday and found the pH reading 3.65.  pH has dropped in the Canyon at “Decision Rapid” to 5.8, and has stained the river right extensively.  

The WVDEP’s T&T Treatment Facility was not able to handle the burden of the recent precipitation events.  WVDEP released the following press release concerning the blowout – March 5 2020 – DEP investigating blowout at former T&T Mine.  With precipitation projected to occur more often and with greater intensity over the next decade, we are left to wonder how often these events may occur.  For the fish documented in Muddy Creek and the Canyon, this is a major ecological setback.  

This is ever more proof of the risk Abandoned Mine Lands pose to healthy ecosystems, and that our work is not done. 

We will continue to push for restored water quality, innovation, and will not accept this as the status quo for Muddy Creek.  Now more than ever, SMCRA AML reauthorization will be critical to address the longstanding ecological damage continually caused by abandoned mine lands.  We’re not out of the weeds, yet.

Muddy Creek

pH Muddy Creek March 4th, 2021

Downstream of the Muddy Creek & Cheat River Confluence

Muddy Creek Confluence Aerial – Photo by Paul Kinder

Muddy Creek Cheat River Downstream Aerial – Photo by Paul Kinder

Decision Rapid – Cheat River Canyon


Help FOC Request a Public Hearing for an 800 Acre Development along the Big Sandy and Laurel Run

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*FOC staff, with consultation from partners, will submit our final comments by the deadline. They are technical, but that is what is called for. You can read some of FOC’s comments below.  FOC supporters are encouraged to continue to submit public meeting requests and personalize their comments.

*Friends of the Cheat will submit the following comments and others:

 

  • The permit application does not have any tributaries to Laurel Run displayed, symbolized, or labeled in their plans even though they fall within the limit of disturbance and greater project area, which is very misleading in relation to the number of stream crossings proposed. WVDEP should require these tributaries to be included in the plans and review potential impacts on each.

  • There were 52 days in 2020 where precipitation over 24 hours equaled 0.25 inches or greater. The signatories and those held liable to enforce the SWPPP, Groundwater Protection Plan (GPP), and requirements affiliated with the NPDES Construction Stormwater permit are addressed to Shepherdstown, WV, an approximate 2 hours and 30 minute drive away from the project site, and Cornelius, North Carolina, an approximate 6 hour drive away from the project site. Who will be on the ground in a daily capacity to administer and enforce the regulations related to the SWPP, GPP, and requirements affiliated with the NPDES Construction Stormwater permit?

  • There are already Notices of Violation issued by WVDEP on this project. Miles of road were cleared, graded, and constructed without any permits in place that are required by law. This includes two stream crossings that were built over Laurel Run and a tributary, with no assessments for potential impacts to these streams or review to determine if the crossings are appropriately sized. We are requesting that WVDEP, WVDNR, Army Corps of Engineers, and the WV Department of Transportation review these crossings to determine if they are adequately sized for integrity of water quality, aquatic organism passage, and structural safety.

  • As it stands currently, this permit application vastly lacks the appropriate sediment and erosion controls to prevent degradation of water quality to Laurel Run and Big Sandy Creek. The WVDEP should enforce its requirement of additional sediment and erosion controls, such as sediment basins.

  • Property owners within the development are responsible for their own construction activities. Will property owners be able to move forward with their individual construction during construction of the activities proposed under Permit Application Number WVR11104? If so, how will inspectors be able to determine sources of erosion and/or sediment if projects are occurring concurrently?

  • Based on independent calculations, there is reason to believe there will be a greater than 10% increase in post-development peak discharge due to exaggerations in drainage areas in the permit application. The calculations in the application should be reviewed in detail by the WVDEP to determine their accuracy.

  • There is no formal Groundwater Protection Plan (GPP) document attached.  Will the Applicant be required to create and submit a signed GPP document that will be held on site at all times?

  • There are four endangered species within the project boundary. The NPDES permit process, specifically the Source Water Pollution Protection Plan (SWPPP), requires the applicant to list these species and include documentation regarding authorization under the Endangered Species Act, comprehensive site assessments, and/or Best Management Practices that are protective of listed endangered and threatened species and.or critical habitat. The applicant has only provided the species list, but no further documentation. WVDEP should enforce its requirement for the applicant to provide the above information.

  • There are significant cultural resources within the project boundary. A State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) representative or cultural resources consultant should review these resources and determine the best course of action for preservation of these resources.

FOC also has concerns about public access to one of our most beloved areas, an area that many dreamed would become public land one day.  Access will be limited or discontinued to members of the public, such as boaters and Allegheny Trail thru-hikers.  FOC will continue to inquire about access developments.

 

Wonder Falls – Photo by Eric Cain

Wonder Falls – Photo by Jeff Macklin

Big Sandy Creek is a priority area for Friends of the Cheat because of its good water quality, stunning beauty, and paddling opportunities. It is beloved by our river community, including whitewater boaters for its untamed and wild scenery and equally wild ride. Boaters travel from across the world to experience the thrill of navigating the Big Sandy.  Historically impaired by irresponsible resource extraction, we have documented great improvements in water quality to the Big Sandy Creek over the last twenty years. FOC and partners like Trout Unlimited invest in restoration and fish stocking projects throughout the Big Sandy watershed. 
Laurel Run is one of the few unimpaired and forested tributaries to the Big Sandy Creek and hosts a native Brook Trout fishery.
Lack of best management practices or ill-planned development could have a significant negative impact to these streams. Friends of the Cheat is requesting more information on the project through a public hearing in order to provide critical feedback on erosion control, sediment management, and protection of water quality. We are especially concerned because significant construction work in ecologically sensitive areas started before permits were in place.
Please help Friends of the Cheat in promoting best management practices and protection of these streams by requesting a public hearing on this new development.

 

The WV Department of Environmental Protection is receiving public comments on the construction stormwater permit for a large development planned along Big Sandy Creek and Laurel Run in Preston County.

Friends of the Cheat is gathering more information on the permit application and encourages concerned citizens to help request a public hearing by writing to WVDEP before Sunday, March 7, 2021.

You can email WVDEP Sharon Mullins, Permitting Section at: Sharon.A.Mullins@wv.gov

Include your name and contact information and the permit number: WVR111041

Any interested person may submit written comments on the site registration permit application and may request a public hearing by addressing such to the Director of the Division of Water and Waste Management within 30 days of the date of the public notice.  Such comments or requests should be addressed to:

Director, Division of Water and Management, DEP

ATTN:  Sharon Mullins, Permitting Section

601 57th Street SE

Charleston, WV  25304-2345

Comments received within this period will be considered prior to acting on the permit application.  Correspondence should include the name, address and the telephone number of the writer and a concise statement of the nature of the issues raised.  The Director shall hold a public hearing whenever a finding is made, on the basis of requests, that there is a significant degree of public interest on issues relevant to the site registration permit application and this facility’s coverage under the General Permit.  Interested persons may contact the Public Information Office to obtain further information.


Fish Tails Tell the Tale

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Article and Photographs by Adam Webster

In June, I joined two Friends of the Cheat staff members to cast lines into the Cheat River at the mouth of Muddy Creek, hoping to catch a bass, trout, walleye, or maybe even a musky. Truth be told, I think we were hoping to catch any sort of fish since Muddy Creek and the section of the Cheat River below its confluence, known as Cheat Canyon, had been considered “dead” for most of the last 25 years. 

Knowing that tens of millions of dollars were spent during that last quarter century to recover water quality in the Cheat River and its tributaries, however, was a promising aspect of our pursuit—we were literally “testing the waters” to see if fish had returned. 

Within the last two years, all indicators suggested that fish were indeed returning into Cheat Canyon and beyond. People sharing photos on social media showed fish caught above and below the Muddy Creek confluence. A photo of a musky as long as a Labrador retriever, caught above Muddy Creek, in Albright, sparked dozens of shares and hundreds of “likes” on social media. I still do a double take when I look at that photo—it’s hard to believe.

It’s hard to believe because the Lower Cheat River was known to be polluted for decades. In 1994, the river grabbed national attention after a series of “blowouts” from a coal mine on Muddy Creek poured millions of gallons of acidic water into Cheat Canyon. The water quality became so bad that in 1995 the Cheat River was listed by American Rivers, a river advocacy group, as one of the top 10 most endangered rivers in the United States. 

When I first experienced the Cheat Canyon in a raft in the early 1990s, the shorelines were indeed stained fluorescent orange and electric white from pollution, known as acid mine drainage. When I mentioned trying to catch a fish in Cheat Canyon while sitting around a campfire one evening long ago, a wise-cracking river guide handed me a bottle of whiskey and said, “You’ve got about as good of a chance catching a fish in a swill of flavored ethanol as you do in the Canyon.” 

My heart sank.

Despite the “whiskey incident,” however, I lugged a fishing pole into Cheat Canyon many times through the years. I wanted to believe that rivers are resilient. I wanted to hold on to a hope that the majesty of the Cheat River wouldn’t always be matched by its tragic condition. I wanted to believe that if I could just catch one fish, maybe things were getting better.   

I didn’t catch a single fish anywhere in Cheat Canyon for nearly a decade —at least not anywhere within a few miles of Muddy Creek, that is.

Wading into the water at the mouth of Muddy Creek on a summer afternoon in 2020 with an expectation of catching a fish made me antsy. In fact, I didn’t even grab my fishing pole. I took my camera instead and let Garrett Richardson (Monitoring Technician) and Owen Mulkeen (Associate Director) do the casting. I just wanted to see it happen. These two guys, along with a long list of other FOC staff and partners past and present—made this recovery happen. This was their moment. Not many people can say that in their lifetime they helped bring a dead river back to life. 

As those two tied lures to their lines and set out to prove what was once impossible, I admired the view looking downstream into Cheat Canyon. Fifteen years prior, I stood in nearly the exact spot surrounded by life-choking sediments and telltale stains of heavy metals caused by acid mine drainage. The pH, or acidity, of water flowing from Muddy Creek into Cheat River back then was, at times, similar to lemon juice or acid rain. The water flowing from Muddy Creek into the Cheat River today, as a result of a nearly $10 million treatment system built by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, is close enough to “normal” that fish and other aquatic organisms should be able to thrive. 

Then it happened. 

I heard a splash behind me. Garrett signaled an excited “fish on” sort of smile while standing in the outflow of Muddy Creek into Cheat River. His line was taught, and his fishing pole went into a bend. As he reeled, a feisty fish slapped its tail on the surface. In that instant, I felt as if we turned the page into a new chapter about the Cheat River.  

As Garrett released a soda can-sized smallmouth bass back into the river and my mind did a rewind on 25 years of what was and what now is, I recalled words and wishes of characters along the way. In the mid-2000s, in interviews with Dave Bassage and Keith Pitzer, both former FOC Executive Directors, they each described a future in which trout thrived in Muddy Creek and that the Cheat River would recover as an intact ecosystem. 

 

“It may well be that I never get to see trout in Muddy Creek in my lifetime,” Bassage said, “but we’re already seeing bass in Cheat Canyon. So, you take your successes where you can find them,” he said. 

Another splish and splash from the corner of my eye and serendipity struck! Garrett was reeling in rainbow trout at the mouth of Muddy Creek.

“We’ll take our successes where we can find them,” I thought to myself.

 As the fishing hour was upon us, Owen landed a couple bass on a fly rod and Garrett moved further up into Muddy Creek and showcased a healthy smallmouth bass. In the weeks after our trip, Garrett caught another bass more than a quarter mile upstream in Muddy Creek.

So, what’s next?

First, I hope that bottles of whiskey will be used to celebrate good days of fishing instead of being used to describe water quality in the Cheat River. 

On a more serious note, FOC needs your continued support. What does “support” mean? It means making financial contributions to the organization and volunteering to help its restoration, recreation, and community development programs succeed into the future. In many ways, this is just the beginning.

What is evident to me is that the recovery of the Cheat River is no longer just a tale about fixing pollution caused in the past, it is a story about the future and not just what will become of the river, but about what the river will become for its communities.


Virtual Cheat Fest 2020 Raffle Item!

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2020 Cheat Fest Donation-Based Raffle Item – Custom Fire Pit by Sam Wilson

$5 for one chance

 

$20 for 6 chances

 

Click Here to Bid!


Monongahela National Forest Celebrates 100 Years of Conservation and Service

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Mouth of Otter Creek – Photo by Adam Webster

“Happy 100th Birthday Monongahela National Forest!  FOC directly benefits from the Monongahela National Forest, as over 30% of our Cheat River watershed is protected by these forested lands.  Without receiving the outstanding water quality that comes from our tributaries protected by the Monongahela National Forest, it is questionable if the Cheat River would have been able to make the recovery it has today.  Some iconic areas protected by the Monongahela National Forest that fall in the Cheat River Watershed include: Dolly Sods Wilderness, Bickle Knob, Cheat Summit Fort, Otter Creek Wilderness, Glady Fork, Laurel Fork Wilderness, Gandy Creek, and Gaudineer Knob to name a few!”  – Madison Ball, FOC Restoration Program Manager

The iconic Bear Rocks Preserve – Dolly Sods Wilderness

April 28 marks the 100-year anniversary (#MNF100) of the establishment of Monongahela National Forest. In 1920, following the passage of the Weeks Act in 1911, President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation designating land purchased for the protection of the Monongahela River as Monongahela National Forest. Since that time, the Forest has grown from an initial 7,200 acres to more than 900,000 acres, all in West Virginia. The Forest continues to benefit the public more than ever by providing recreational opportunities, a wide variety of forest products, and abundant natural resources for all to enjoy.

“We invite everyone to celebrate with us on April 28, in spirit and online, 100 years of caring for the land and serving the public on this National Forest,” said Shawn Cochran, Forest Supervisor. “I’d like to thank the State of West Virginia, our partners, volunteers, as well as past and present Forest Service employees who have served and dedicated themselves over the years to caring for this land that belongs to all of us.”

You can help celebrate the Forest’s birthday online at the following locations:

Be sure to check out the Forest’s website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/mnf for more fun Centennial activities later this year.

Special thanks to the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area for assisting with planning the Forest’s Centennial and sharing information with the public. Learn more about them and link to their social media platforms at https://www.appalachianforestnha.org/.


Support FOC on #GivingTuesday

Donate to FOC's Education and Outreach Program on December 1st, 2021!