Stay the Frack Out of Our Water

A few weeks ago, fracking waste chemicals were allegedly found near drinking water inputs in West Virginia. Duke University tested the headwaters of Wolf Creek and Lochgelly, and discovered toxic chemicals and radiation in fracking wastewater. It was confirmed that Wolf Creek was contaminated with toxic hydraulic fracking compounds. Furthermore, laboratory test showed that radiation in the water the Lochgelly frack site was over 3,000 picoCurries per liter. Whereas, the safety threshold is 60 picoCurries per liter maximum.

According to the National Cancer Institute, Fayette County now has the highest rate of Leukemia in West Virginia. In Fayette County, there has also been a significant increase in the cancer rate in recent years. Fayette county now has the highest rate per capita of head, neck, lung and colon cancer in West Virginia.

11147091_840747919324211_6181076730029995888_n

Tuesday, during a public hearing hosted by The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Fayette County residents voice their opinions about the underground injection site on the West Virginia DEP permit renewal for the Danny Webb Construction Company’s site in Lochgelly at Oak Hill High School.

The majority of the speakers opposed Webb’s proposed underground injection control permits, which involves dumped oil and gas waste from sites in Pennsylvania, Virginia and other parts of West Virginia.

“Friends of Water, Plateau Action Network, the National Park Service and even the Fayette County Commission asked the DEP to deny this permit,” reported WV Public Broadcasting.

During the hear, DEP was accused of failing to represent the people.

Earlier this month, the Environmental Quality Board ruled that the state agency tasked with the protecting the environment in West Virginia, violated state law when it allowed Danny Webb Construction to collect waste without a permit.

DEP is considering a permit, which would allow the company to continue accepting fluids from oil and gas exploration, development drilling and production for another five years. The DEP is accepting comments through May 1.

Click here to see a condensed version of an open letter to the Commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health from the Kanawha representative for the WV Mountain Party

Advertisements

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.

New Rec Center in Morgantown

By Karly Shire

The Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners brought forth a proposal for a new recreation facility to the Commissioner in early December.  The proposal offered two alternatives for the location of the rec center: Mylan Park or White Park.  Months after the proposal was approved, a concrete plan has yet to be in place.

The “Morgantown Sports, Recreation, and Wellness Center” is aimed to fight the obesity epidemic that has taken over the country, particularly in West Virginia.

“The Morgantown Sports, Recreation, and Wellness Center envisions a healthier and happier Monongalia County. We are committed to working with individuals, companies, and local organizations to help them successfully reach their individual and family health and wellness goals in all areas of their life. In addition, our center is committed to creating a better economy by creating jobs, bringing in additional businesses, and creating a better living environment for our residents.”

– Mission Statement of the Morgantown Sports, Recreation, and Wellness Center

West Virginia leads the nation is adult obesity

West Virginia Adult Obesity by County--WV Department of Health and Human Resources

West Virginia Adult Obesity by County–WV Department of Health and Human Resources

West Virginia Childhood Obesity by County--WV Department of Health and Human Resources

West Virginia Childhood Obesity by County–WV Department of Health and Human Resources

While the original proposal had three separate divisions: the Morgantown Recreation Center, the Morgantown Ice Rink, and the Morgantown Aquatics Center; Commissioner Tom Bloom has updated that there has been a change in plans.

“WVU has decided to move forward on their project, which will be at Mylan Park, that would be the Natatorium.  There has also been talk of adding a track as well as a golf course,” said Commissioner Bloom.

Because of this change, Mon. County will fund the project at White Park.  The facility would take up approximately 15-20 acres, costing the county around $10 to $15 million.  The Commissioner assured that these areas have been approved and there would be no environmental ramifications.

According to the proposal, some residents have expressed concerns regarding the location.  However, Morgantown resident, Greg Riffon, is more than optimistic about the new facility.  “I think White Park would be a great location for this rec center,” Riffon said.  “The nature trails are great but I can only use them in nice weather, this rec center I can use year round.”

Risk Assessment- epa.gov

Risk Assessment- epa.gov

Although the area has been accepted and no environmental concerns have been raised, there is still concern surrounding construction and maintenance.  The Environmental Protection Agency has set forth environmental guidelines for construction sites.

One of the biggest concerns with a project of this size is land disturbance.  This includes the removal of vegetation or reshaping the landscape.  Land disturbance can lead to erosion or runoff, both of which can lead to pollution of waterways.

There are several environmental factors to consider before starting construction.

These construction concerns have yet to be discussed.  Plans to move forward in the project have halted, but there is hope that the project will take place sometime within the next two years.

Deer overpopulation impacting eastern forests in multiple ways

By: Mike Marsh

The deer population in the eastern United States is starting to take its toll on the healthy balance of forest ecosystems. No vertebrate species in the eastern United States has a more direct effect on the ecosystem than the white-tailed deer. According to the Nature Conservancy, many state deer populations are continuing to rise well beyond historical norms. So where is all the harm in a large population of deer? The problem starts with what the deer are grazing on.

Deer feeding on preferential plant species has changed the composition and structure of forests. The Nature Conservancy states that in their opinion, there is no greater threat to forests than overpopulation of deer. They also say that only invasive exotic insects and disease have been comparable in magnitude to the issues forests are facing when there are too many deer.

Here is a map released by Quality Deer Management Association in 2008 depicting whitetail deer density in the United States. The northern part of the West Virginia area has one of the higher whitetail deer densities.

http://forum.gon.com/showthread.php?t=294575

*The legend for the map is as follows: (Deer per square mile)*

  • White = Rare, absent, or urban area with unknown populations.
  • Green = Less than 15
  • Yellow = 15 to 30
  • Tan or Brown = 30 to 45
  • Dark Brown = Greater than 45

The Nature Conservancy also says that cutting down the impact of deer’s plant diet is a key forest restoration strategy and in future it will become necessary in order to help maintain functioning forests in a climate that is already showing signs of warming. It is eye-opening to learn that overpopulation of deer actually has a more of a negative impact on forest ecosystems than the potential consequences of global warming.

Since deer management cannot be regulated at the federal level, the states have the right set their own regulations regarding wildlife. West Virginia specially has made efforts to reform these regulations because of the impact the deer population was having on the states timber production.

According to a report on the negative impacts of high deer population, published by the Office of Legislative Auditor in Charleston, West Virginia, the Division of Natural Resources has pursued a strategy increasing the hunting and fishing opportunities in West Virginia. The state of West Virginia has purchased land specifically dedicated to hunting and have also changed game management polices and increased deer population in the forests.

This is an issue for the state, and the report sees the DNR’s policy of further increasing the states deer population as not being in the best interest for the citizens of West Virginia.

The report claims that scientific research has determined that deer in populations over 20 deer per square mile harm forests saplings due to “over browsing”. The result of this is that these highly concentrated areas with deer are not seeing any regeneration of hardwood forests. Too many deer means negative effects on the state’s wood product industry, farm industry, and the ecological health of West Virginia’s ecosystem. The effects on timber production is the biggest concern for West Virginia because of the amount of money it generates for the economy.

The report says that the economic impact of hunting and fishing in West Virginia is around $200 million dollars annually, which is a fraction of what the wood products industry generates. The timber from West Virginia is worth $1.3 billion annually to the states economy.  They claim that increasing the deer population may have a short term positive economic impact on West Virginia, but in the long term, the growing deer population will dramatically harm West Virginia’s ecosystem balance and the forest economy.

The amount of deer hunted in West Virginia has substantially grown each year. This table gives on idea of the rate at which deer have been harvested, but this still isn’t having much of an impact on slowing the of overpopulation of deer.

http://www.wvdnr.gov/Hunting/DeerHarvest.shtm

In places where deer density exceeds 20 per square mile, plant species such as sugar maple, white ash, tallow poplar, hemlock, pin cherry, oak, and aspen are eliminated from the ecosystem, and with high deer populations continuing to exist in these areas, there is a very slow regeneration of these commercial plant species. West Virginia’s economy is experiencing significant economic losses due to this fact. When an industry generates as much $1.3 billion annually, it is easy to see the concern that state environmentalists and economists have on the relationship between deer population and the declining timber revenue.

The question raised with all of the information in this report is how, or will, the state will come up with an ethical way to reduce the deer population. Simply encouraging more hunting is not going to be a solution that can fix this problem, and the idea of killing of any wildlife animal species in large numbers will have further ramifications on the ecosystem and the entire food chain. The timber industry may need to take a wait and see approach for now to determine whether or not this excess deer population problem will ever be fixed.

 

 

 

Sierra Club Knows How to Have Environmental Fun

11018617_877569032266386_7377010931877608000_oThe Sierra Swing

Hosted by the Sierra Student Coalition , environmental fun took place at Morgantown Brew Pub this past Friday, April 10. The Sierra Swing featured live music by The Manor and Friends and a raffle with excellent prizes from local businesses. The best part of the event was supporting an awesome environmental group!

The Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is a group of high school and college-aged students working to protect the environment. Their mission is

“to train, empower, and organize youth to run effective campaigns that result in tangible environmental victories and that develop leaders for the environmental movement.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 3.54.27 PM

The Monongahela (“Mon”) Group of the West Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club includes members from 5 counties – Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston and Taylor.  Their goal is

“to increase awareness of environmental threats and create opportunities for active involvement of all sorts.”

This is executed by an event, a group function, holding volunteer office, leading or joining outings, becoming an activist and lobbying or demonstrating for change.

sierra-club-logo3Sierra Club

The SSC and Mon Group are sub groups of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club loves clean water, fresh air and wild forests. Members of this group work hard to protect the natural resources that they cherish. Some of their issues in West Virginia include:

Waterwater is life – keep it clean
Marcellus Gas Drilling and FrackingMarcellus Academy teaches about Marcellus gas issues, how to become a gas well watcher and organizer in your community.
Energy Efficiency – demonstrates the cheapest and cleanest way to meet our energy needs
Mountaintop Removal and Coal Mining: under the Club’s Environmental Justice Program, organizers work in the coalfield communities of Appalachia. These communities in southern West Virginia are at risk of flooding, local water contamination, destruction from over-weight coal trucks, decreased personal property value from coal dust and living in the shadows of huge coal-sludge impoundments. Researchers have also documented its impact to the health of coalfield residents.
West Virginia Wilderness Coalition: incorporated by the West Virginia Sierra Club, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and The Wilderness Society, the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition is a proud partner in the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument initiative.
“the movement to preserve one of the Mountain State’s most special wild landscapes, a rich history and an unparalleled cultural heritage.”

Sierra Club’s Statement of Purpose:

“To explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the Earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the Earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.”

Enter into Sierra Club’s

 EARTH DAY PHOTO CONTEST 2015

Good luck and check out the prizes!

Donate to Sierra Club here                     Like Sierra Club on Facebook.

Fracking the Ohio River

By: Carley Posey

Since 2014, the state legislature has been mulling over the idea of fracking underneath the Ohio River. In December they finally passed the motion to do so, but many residents of the state are not happy and it could really destroy our environment. The decision to so is said to possibly bring millions of dollars into the state, but at what cost?

fracking 1

Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth and using high pressure water to remove the gas under the earth’s surface. While the advantages of fracking are that you are able to get gas and oil from deep in the earth that other methods may not be able to reach, the controversy and hatred for it see to outweigh the good.

fracking 2

Sign at a anti-fracking protest. thinkingpress.org

The worries are that it uses so much water that once used becomes contaminated. Environmentalists worry about the possible cancer causing chemicals leaking out and contaminating even more water in the form of groundwater sent out into the nearest town. The usage of water is also a major concern, as it can take between 1-8 million gallons of water to do one fracking job.

When West Virginia legislature gave the okay to drill under the Ohio River they were told they could make money and would get paid per acre from the companies involved. Right now 12 miles of the river would be affected, but as many as 9 more are under discussion.

fracking 3

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition is just one of the groups fighting the ruling. Their biggest concern is the disposal of the waste from fracking and how they will get the supplies down the river on barges. They don’t want anything or anyone to be contaminated, and it seems as though there is a very real possibility it could happen at some point.

While other groups like the Wheeling Water Warriors who have taken to sending around a petition against the Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. The Ohio River runs into the Mississippi though so this fracking and the potential of contamination could affect more than just West Virginia. The water from the Ohio River runs straight down to the Gulf of Mexico. It would be a shame for the beautiful Ohio River to be lined with water trucks and rigs.

fracking 4

The Ohio River during summer.

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.

MountaintopRemoval

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.

#WVUBlogJ