Acid mine drainage (AMD) is the most damaging pollutant in Deckers Creek. When coal mining breaks up coal and the rock layers near the coal, water and oxygen react with pyrite, a mineral, and convert it to sulfuric acid and dissolved iron. These chemicals, along with the aluminum that is dissolved out of other rocks by the acid, negatively impact fish and other aquatic organisms.
Our Aquatic Communities brochure (front, back) describes the effects of AMD on aquatic communities in more detail. As the brochure illustrates, there are two general areas in the watershed with severe AMD impacts. A number of smaller discharges damage Deckers Creek and its tributaries in the upper part of the watershed. One large AMD source, the Richard mine, devastates aquatic life in Deckers Creek for five miles as it travels through Morgantown to the Monongahela River.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service has completed two additional projects in the upper part of the watershed, and is planning to construct an additional project in the upper watershed and one in the lower watershed in late 2009 or early 2010. NRCS is also leading the effort to address the pollution from the Richard Mine. The agency monitored flow from the abandoned Richard mine for an entire year, considered a large number of alternatives for treating the AMD, and proposed a final conceptual design. As soon as a partner commits to operating and maintaining the NRCS project, the treatment facility can be built
Industries near the creek are also important partners. They are required by law to prevent their operations from damaging the creek, and they work very hard to satisfy the law. In particular, ICG, the coal mining company, treats water in underground mines and prevents that water from entering Kanes Creek and Deckers Creek. Although there is much work to be done before the AMD problem is solved, remediation of AMD in Deckers Creek is going forward slowly but surely.
Weekly observations at the Deckers Creek Nature Trail
The Richard mine is the major source of AMD degrading Deckers Creek in the last five miles before it discharges into the Mon River. That mine dumps more than a ton of acidity and more than 800 pounds of metals into the creek every day.
Can you see this pollution? You can see it much better on some days than on others. We think the visibility of the mine pollution works in the following way:
The effect of the Richard AMD on the appearance of the creek depends on how much water the mine is discharging compared to the flow in the creek. In early summer the flow in the creek drops way down as plants start taking water out of the soil. The water in the mine, however, doesn't slow down very much: the plants can't reach the water in the mine. The increase in the proportion of the creek that comes from the mine makes the creek worse. It may grow even worse all summer as the flow in the creek decreases faster than the flow from the mine.
Trees stop using up the water in September and October. After a few November rains, the soil is usually full again, and the creek starts to carry more water. The flow from the mine, however, usually remains low. It takes some extra time for the water that is getting through the soil to fill up the mine.
Josh Hetu, a WVU intern, is making weekly measurements of the creek. He is paying special attention to measurements related to the appearance of the creek, such as turbidity and total suspended solids. Compare the data (below) to what you see as you pass by Deckers Creek. Let us know what you think is going on!