By: Logan Barry
West Virginia has long been known for its beautiful rivers and creeks, making it one of the best states on the east coast for fly fishing. It’s streams and rivers provide flourishing homes for trout and other freshwater fish. West Virginia has also long been known for its historical role in coal mining, and it’s pollutants produced from it have caused a lot of harm to these rivers and streams throughout the state.
Specifically, in northern West Virginia, the coal mining has produced a brutal burden on the Deckers Creek Watershed. Acid mine drainage (AMD) is the most common pollutant in Deckers Creek, causing it to be harmful to both humans and the wildlife living in it. The act of mining disturbs the natural hydrology of the mined area, and exposes previously concealed pyrite to both the surface water in the creek as well as the oxygen. AMD is a combination of bacteria from sewage overflows, heavy metals, sediment, trash, and general abandonment.
This problem diminishes any dreams of fishing in creeks like this. If the fish aren’t already dead, they definitely aren’t edible if they are caught. Plus it is harmful for humans to expose it to their skin, and in order to fly fish, people usually have to be in the water at some point.
The coal mining isn’t the problem anymore, it’s the abandoned industry surrounding the creek. In particular, Richard Mine is one of the major acid mine drainage sources, and continues to contaminate the waters of Deckers Creek.
Founded in 1995, an organization called Friends of Deckers Creek (FADC) was formed in Monongalia and Preston Counties to address this problem. In 1997, they started receiving small grants for water treatment and monitoring.
Despite the amount of environmental pollutants in the creek, its restoration is still attainable. Through remediation projects, community outreach, trash pick up, and environmental education, it is the FODC’s goal to have Deckers Creek swimmable and fishable by 2020. To say the least, they definitely have been making progress, but more help is needed.
As of Fall 2010, the project closed two separate abandoned mines in the Deckers Creek Watershed. Over 30,000 tons of rip rap ditches were installed, along with the installation of large ponds to capture and contain the acid mine runoff.
With the progress they have made over the years, it seems like the project is heading in a positive direction, but more can always be done. The project itself is taking care of the abandoned industries and coal mines, but it is still up to the public to be educated and aware of how to sustain its progress.
Hopefully FODC’s goal of having the creek swimmable and fishable by 2020 will be a reality, but at this point it’s up to the community to make that reality happen.
FODC is just one example of watershed organizations working with community involvement in West Virginia, and it proves that there is hope for rehabilitation for even the most polluted watersheds.