West Virginia’s Water Problems Don’t Stop at the Border

We’ve discussed how rivers, streams, lakes, tributaries, watersheds, and all other bodies of water in the Mountain State that have been compromised due to human-induced environmental problems. Acid mine drainage (AMD), acid rain deposition, mountaintop removal, and the introduction of foreign species have all negatively affected West Virginia’s bodies of water; but it does not stop there. All of these factors are affecting more than just the wild and wonderful streams and rivers that West Virginia is known for, they are having an impact on the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay, and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean as well.

In 2012, the Potomac River was named America’s Most Endangered River. The river forms parts of the border between West Virginia and Virginia, as well as Maryland and the District of Columbia. This means that streams and smaller rivers in West Virginia that flow into the Potomac River, are feeding it with the same pollutants that I’ve already described in previous posts. This is not only a strong indication for more clean water protection, but a major wake-up call for the Mountain State and the federal government to continue taking measures to assure West Virginia streams and rivers stay clean and healthy. The Potomac River provides five million people with drinking water, and numerous others with outdoor recreational activities. As with the streams and rivers in West Virginia, these problems are also contributing to the water quality and the aquatic life in the Potomac River, according to the Interstate Commission of the Potomac River Basin. It is not just a state concern, it is a interstate concern that needs the cooperation of  both state and federal environmental agencies, as well as the citizens living in these states and the nation’s capital. And guess what? It needs the cooperation of even more than West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., because the Potomac River isn’t the only other body of water being affected. I bet most of you can already guess what comes next.

Yes, the Chesapeake Bay. The Potomac River feeds straight into the Bay, which occupies more than just those three states and the federal district. The Chesapeake Bay runs from New York State, all the way down to Virginia. The problems associated in West Virginia’s bodies of water, flow into the Potomac River, which flows in to the Chesapeake Bay. It has long been known that the Chesapeake Bay is experiencing major environmental issues that have been produced by multiple factors from other states, including West Virginia. Along with all of the other states that I have previously mentioned, as well as the entire District of Columbia, that fall into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York. The major rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay are the York, the James, the Rappahannock, the Susquehanna, and of course, the Potomac. Since the Potomac River is the only river that involves West Virginia’s relationship to the Chesapeake Bay, that is what this state needs to focus on taking care of in order to do its part in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. In 2002, West Virginia Governor Bob Wise officially signed the Chesapeake Bay Program Water Quality Initiative Memorandum of Understanding, making West Virginia a Headwaters Partner in the Chesapeake Bay Program.

By considering all of the factors and taking action for prevention, that I have talked about in previous posts to decrease the human-induced pollution and environmental issues in the streams and rivers of West Virginia, that will help make the Potomac cleaner, which will benefit the Chesapeake Bay. The state has started to take care of the AMD in their water, they’ve taken measures to decrease acid rain deposition, they are looking into alternatives to mountaintop removal, and they are determining how to repopulate their waters with native fish species. All of these factors will help clean up the Bay. This is because the cleanliness has to start somewhere, so if West Virginia can make sure that its waters are clean, then they have done their part in contributing to making sure that the Chesapeake Bay is clean.

It is interesting how what we do in the Mountain State, can have an impact on the Chesapeake Bay. It takes a cooperative approach from all of the states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and we’ve been positively progressing over the years. I’ll be interested to see what the status of the Bay is when I’m older. The aquatic life of the Bay’s ecosystem, as well as the health to humans who live near it all depends on the actions that these states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government take to clean it up.



Electrofishing? How we are Restoring Fish Populations in These Wild and Wonderful Streams

As I mentioned in all of my posts: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, watersheds, and tributaries and any other kind of body of water in the state of West Virginia have been damaged by human-induced pollutants that have devastating effects on their aquatic ecosystems, including their fish populations. Pollutants that I previously mentioned in my other posts such as acid mine drainage (AMD), acid rain deposition, and overburden from mountaintop removal all contribute to these devastating effects that hurt fish populations; trout populations in particular.

Unites States Environmental Protection Agency

Although you can find many different species of trout (rainbow, brown, speckled) in Appalachia, Brook Trout is the only species that is native to West Virginia. These trout populations have been at an increasing risk of decline due to all of these human-induced pollutants that are contaminating the streams and rivers throughout the state. They are also being destroyed through competition with other salmonids, which are other types of fresh water fish such as salmon and other trout that are not native to West Virginia’s section of Appalachia. State and federal environmental agencies have and are continuing to take appropriate measures to restore these native species in this wild and wonderful mountain state, as well as across all of Appalachia. These agencies and departments consist of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the National Park Service (NPS), the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WV DEP), and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (WV DNR). These departments and agencies, along with the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited (WVCTU) (an organization that helps to conserve the state’s watersheds that these trout call home) are working together to restore the state’s trout populations.

One way in which these federal, state, and privately owned organizations are taking measures to learn more about the problems with the current trout populations is through the use of electro-fishing. Electro-fishing is the technique and science of utilizing an electrical current to momentarily stun fish or force them to involuntarily swim towards an electrical field for collection. This technique can be used for a variety of different reasons, including the detection of contaminant levels in fish that are desired for consumption by humans, to determine the abundance of fish populations in certain bodies of water to determine the biomass of the population, and whether or not if there are too many/not enough of a particular species for that body of water. If performed properly, electro-fishing can provide for a wealth of valuable information regarding fish populations, and after all of the contaminants that we know are in these rivers and streams, it is definitely necessary that we utilize this technique to get a better look at the size of their populations and how badly they have been effected by these pollutants. Todd Petty, a professor of Wildlife and Fisheries Resources at West Virginia University explained in an article how these results underscore the importance of small tributaries for the persistence of trout (and other types of fish) in these watersheds and the need to consider watershed-scale processes when designing management plans for Appalachian trout populations.

Just being able to study these fish is useful for biologists, and the WV DNR has also come up with a other alternatives to electro-fishing:

For a deeper look into what electro-fishing is and how it can help impact our state’s rivers and streams, check out what people are saying about it:

This technique is used to find out whether these populations are declining due to contaminants in the ecosystem, competition with exotic species (such as other salmonids), or even to figure out if there are too much of a certain species. It allows scientists or authorities working for these different departments to examine the different species in a way that does not cause any harm to them, that is of course, if they don’t want to cause them any harm…

This might sound a little off topic, but it is still related I promise. I am from Virginia, and I live on a lake. We have a problem that is the exact opposite of the trout problem occurring in West Virginia. In a lot of our commonwealth’s lakes, there are an over population of large-mouth bass. Our commonwealth’s environmental agencies and departments have used similar techniques to come up with strategies to fix the problem. They have used electro-fishing methods to determine exactly how over populated these lakes are with large-mouth bass. By doing that, they can use mathematical calculations to determine how many fish need to be removed. As sad as it sounds, they actually advise fisherman to go against the “catch-and-release” policy, and rather advise them to throw the large-mouth-bass onto the shoreline to let them die if they are too small. This is because their population has gotten to big, and when it gets too big, the individual fish do not get the chance to grow to their potential size because there isn’t enough food. So in a recap, these electro-fishing techniques can be used for a number of reasons. This technique can be used in West Virginia with it’s problem with invasive species. They have told fisherman to kill unwanted species when caught. Recently in Fairmont, West Virginia, a fisherman caught a Caiman (a sub-species of the alligator) in the Monongahela River, and it is an invasive species that produces competition for food for native fish in these rivers. The WV DNR has advised fisherman to kill these animals if caught.

As I have mentioned before, West Virginia is know for its beautiful rivers and streams, with tourism being one of their top methods of state funding. With fly fishing being one of those top tourist activities, it is imperative that the we maintain the trout population at a consistent and healthy level; because that is the number one fish that fly fisherman are seeking in Appalachia. Not only do we want to keep there population from diminishing as a whole, we want them to be healthy as well, so that when we eat them we don’t get sick too. We have been seeing these problems arise all over Appalachia, and it is slowly making its way into the Potomac River, eventually ending up in the Chesepeake Bay, and ultimately ending up in the Atlantic Ocean. It is something we need to keep a close eye on, and I will be interested to see the progress we make.

Wild and Wonderful Streams and Rivers are Still at Risk

Rivers and streams in West Virginia are just one of the natural beauties that the state has to offer, but human-induced environmental pollutants are still compromising the fate of their future. We have already looked at how acid mine drainage (AMD) and acid rain has contributed to the toxicity in these bodies of water, now we will focus on mountaintop removal.


Photo By: John McQuaid

Mountaintop removal was introduced with the intentions of creating a safer alternative to traditional coal mines, but it has done just the opposite. Mountaintop removal is done by surface mining the tops of mountains and ridge lines. When they are finished, they need somewhere to dump all of the overburden, which ends up being in empty hollows that once flourished with wildlife. The problem with this is that dumping these massive amounts of overburden into these hollows ultimately destroys headwater streams, which are crucial to a mountain’s ecosystem.

In particular, Laurel Branch Hollow has been damaged because of mountaintop removal. Laurel Branch Hollow is located in the southeastern region of West Virginia in Monroe County, along the Virginia border. It is being damaged by the Hobet 21 Coal Mining Operation.

Authorities said dumping overburden in these areas such as Laurel Branch was alright because it was barren, with not much being there to begin with. According to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, this just isn’t true. Laurel Branch use to be filled with microbes and insect life that would become a buffet for the birds, fish, and amphibians living in it. This all ended when it was used for a fill site.

As rainwater runs through these hollows (or fills) and dismantled mountainsides of Hobet 21, it collects minerals and pollutants that are harmful to the delicate chemistry of streams and rivers for miles downstream. Laurel Branch and multiple others feed into the Mud River. The Mud River is now heavily contaminated with selenium, which is a heavy metal that is working its way up the food chain in ever-greater concentrations. Studies have associated it with deformities found in fish larvae, including curved spines and two eyes on one side.

Not only does this mess with the ecosystems of these streams and rivers, but it can also produce harm to humans living in these areas who use well water. Opposed to tap water that people living in cities use, people living in rural areas usually get their water from wells, and underground streams that go through a purification process. But these pollutants have been so extreme that they can’t be purified. Some people in these areas have experienced rashes and burns after taking showers or baths because the water was contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic and lead. In similar instances, other people have experienced decay in their tooth enamel because they were drinking this water. The federal government has also said that these heavy metals could lead to cancer, kidney damage, and central nervous system damage.

While the Obama administration has taken measures to tighten the regulations on mountaintop removal, these streams and rivers are still at risk as long as the practice continues to be legal. Tightening the measures just isn’t enough, and that’s not even promising that these streams and rivers can ever be restored, it might be too late. A University of Maryland study of 37,000 streams and rivers reclamation projects said that it had found none to be successfully restored after the damage of surface mining had already occurred.

I will be interested to see what our government will do about this problem, whether they continue to tighten regulations or to make it illegal. Either way, I will be more interested to see if we can do anything about what has already been done…the fate of not only West Virginia’s streams and rivers, but Appalachia as a whole, depends on it.


Wild and Toxic Part 2

Deckers Creek isn’t the only stream and watershed in the state of West Virginia to be contaminated with environmental pollutants, its happening all over the state; and for different reasons. Acid mine drainage (AMD) is the biggest cause of pollutants in the Deckers Creek Watershed, but across other regions of the state, there are different pollutants affecting streams and rivers, acid rain being one in particular. The good news, just like with Deckers Creek, the state and federal governments have and are taking appropriate measures to control and ultimately fix these problems.

Two tributaries, Sugar Creek and Dogway Fork, in southeastern West Virginia, have been affected by acid rain deposition. Sugar Creek is a tributary of the Williams River in Pocahontas County, and Dogway Fork is a tributary of the Cranberry River which spans both Pocahontas and Webster Counties. Both ultimately drain into the Gauley River, which is famous for being West Virginia’s best rivers for white water rafting and is ranked as one of the best on the east coast. Other than being famous for white water rafting, both of the rivers draining into the Gauley River sustain year-round trout populations and are areas for human water recreation, including fishing and swimming.

Acid deposition, most commonly referred to as acid rain; whether it be rain, snow, sleet, hail, or any other forms of precipitation are naturally slightly acidic because of chemical reactions that occur with carbon dioxide and other natural substances in our atmosphere. The problem is that these acidity levels can be increased by additional air pollution that is human-induced. Acid rain occurs when human-induced emissions of sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen react with oxygen, oxidants, and water in our atmosphere; producing sulfuric or nitric acid in the precipitation.

The problems with acid deposition most commonly effects the aquatic ecosystems within these rivers and streams, but it is also possible to be harmful to humans as well.

It harms fish populations by killing individual fish, as well as harming their spawning locations, which can reduce fish populations, as well as ultimately result in the elimination of fish populations from certain bodies of water, decreasing biodiversity. Biodiversity is important in these aquatic ecosystems, as it is in any ecosystem because it is the circle of life, because other species whether it be plants, animals, or other aquatic organisms require the presence of everything natural to its particular environment.

Acid rain can cause harm to humans in lots of ways, but I am going to focus two specifics. It isn’t harmful directly, swimming in bodies of water contaminated with these acids would feel the same as swimming in a clean body of water. But when inhaled, it can cause heart and lung problems that lead to premature death. On another note, looking back to the biodiversity and how it makes the ecosystem unbalanced, it can cause bacteria in the water that can also be harmful to humans if consumed or entered into the body accidentally.

Looking back at the tributaries of Sugar Creek and Dogway Fork, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), along with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WV DEP), and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (WV DNR) took both of them off of the state’s impaired waters list in 2006. in 1997, both creeks shared a com pH level of 3.7-3.8, and the state’s water criterion for the stream’s pH was designated to be 6.0 to 9.0.

These departments and agencies fixed this problem by dumping massive amounts of limestone into the streams, but that still doesn’t mean the problem has gone away forever. But as of 2006, both tributaries shared common pH levels.

Sugar Creek was resting at a pH level of 6.4  and 7.0 (Dogway Fork). Even though these tributaries are above the state’s water criterion for pH levels, they are still sitting fairly close to the border. Automobiles and utility factories are the main sources for acid rain emissions.

This is where the topic gets political, because what we have to do to maintain a healthy pH level in these streams are up to the state and federal governments legislation. Sure, we can keep dumping massive tons of limestone in them, over and over again, racking up state and federal funds, or they can make legislation that forces these emissions to stop, or search for alternative solutions.

I will be interested to see what our government does to prevent these emissions to keep occurring. “Because if the acid rain keeps destroying our environment, it will eventually destroy us as well.”


Wild and Toxic

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.