Artful Water Remediation System Opens to Public

We don't usually see what goes into cleaning up streams from the polluted water pouring out of the area's many abandoned mines. But visitors can now walk around a series of artfully designed restoration ponds at a forested property south of Pittsburgh. The Allegheny Front's Estelle Tran attended the unveiling of the Allegheny Land Trust's latest project.

Read the transcript »Close the Transcript

Transcript

OPEN: While this accident fuels concerns about the environmental impacts of the new wave of energy extraction in the Marcellus Shale, our region still has cleanup to tackle from its legacy of coal mining. We don't usually see what goes into cleaning up streams from the polluted water pouring out of the area's many abandoned mines. But visitors can now walk around a series of artfully designed restoration ponds at a forested property south of Pittsburgh. The Allegheny Front's Estelle Tran attended the unveiling of the Allegheny Land Trust's latest project.

(Sound of water turning on)

TRAN: Congressman Tim Murphy and three-year-old Liam Welge turn the wheel to restart the flow of orange water. The fluid moves from a large pipe into the first pool of the abandoned mine drainage treatment system. A crowd watched as a series of five pools filtered iron oxide from the water. The $1.2 million system is located in the Wingfield Pines Conservation Area, an 80-acre preserved property in the southwestern corner of Allegheny County. Though using gravity and oxidation to clean up polluted water isn't new, this system's design makes the process easier to see. Bob Hedin, owner of Hedin Environmental, designed the system.

HEDIN: Most systems that are built to treat mine drainage like this, they're arranged in a series. Here we thought about the observer, and then we put the ponds around you. So the water is actually flowing around the center where we are now. And it takes it 10 to 12 hours from where it enters the circle and where it comes out.

TRAN: The remediation system's color-wheel-like appearance shows how the water becomes clearer as iron settles. The pools gather about an inch of iron per year in the two- to four-foot-deep pools. Hedin said in about 10 years, someone will extract the sludge, dry it and create pigment that will be sold to color concrete, paint, wood and even clothing. The land trust expects that its system will filter out 43 tons of iron oxide from 1 billion gallons of mine discharge each year. The Land Trust says that the waterway near the AMD site, Chartiers Creek, is now thriving with the new cleanup system in place, as visitors Jodie Welge her son Liam saw on the day of the unveiling.

JODIE WELGE: What do you like about this place? What did you see?

LIAM: I see fish in the water. I see fishes and a beaver. A beaver house.

TRAN: Though contractors completed the system in July of last year, the Allegheny Land Trust said the organization wanted its public opening to coordinate with World Environment Day. The organization also needed that time to finish the system's trails and 600-foot boardwalk. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams are polluted with abandoned mine drainage. This problem will take between 5 to 15 billion dollars to fix. For The Allegheny Front, I'm Estelle Tran.