Frustrated Residents Speak Out About Dunkard Creek Fish Kill

People who live near Dunkard Creek in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania are frustrated over how the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is dealing with pollution from nearby mines. Meanwhile, officials say they are working hard to find solutions to better regulate impurities in Dunkard and admit that treating mine discharge into the creek might have prevented a massive fish kill in September. Wests Virginia Public Radio's Ben Adducchio reports.

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People who live near Dunkard Creek in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania are frustrated over how the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is dealing with pollution from nearby mines. Meanwhile, officials say they are working hard to find solutions to better regulate impurities in Dunkard and admit that treating mine discharge into the creek might have prevented a massive fish kill in September. Wests Virginia Public Radio's Ben Adducchio reports.

Dozens of residents who live near the Dunkard Creek Watershed came to Mt. Morris, PA to hear what is being done to prevent another kill from environmental officials. Officials say they are working hard to find solutions to better regulate impurities in Dunkard and admit that treating mine discharge into the creek might have prevented a massive fish kill in September.

In September, the aquatic life in the creek was all but wiped out. WV DEP officials say a golden algae bloom killed everything. Betty Wiley is president of the Dunkard Creek Watershed Association.

"Dunkard Creek is the poster child of something that has never happened before in the Mid-Atlantic region," she said. "Something will come of this, and it's going to take time to happen."

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources reports that as many as 22,000 fish were killed in the West Virginia section of Dunkard Creek. DNR officials say Dunkard Creek won't be stocked again until the golden algae is contained properly and can't bloom.

But that could be awhile. Patrick Campbell works for the WV DEP.

"It's humbling, you think you know a lot about it, but it's biology," he said, "it's not black and white. There's a lot more to learn."

Campbell says the golden algae is now present in six West Virginia streams, and investigators hit a road block trying to test them.

"The strain has not been identified yet. We're trying to grow this guy or gal, but they need more of it growing to be able to do the DNA analysis, to see if ours is similar to the ones in Texas or Oklahoma," he said.

In September 2002, DEP officials found that CONSOL Energy was violating water quality standards by releasing high levels of chloride into streams at several sites, including two along Dunkard Creek. But three times - in 2004, 2007 and 2008 - the DEP issued compliance orders giving CONSOL additional time to meet water quality standards. One attendee at Thursday night's meeting asked Campbell about the compliance schedule and if he thought the schedule played a role in the fish kill at Dunkard Creek.

"As long as these conditions stayed the same, it was presumed Dunkard Creek would have the fishery," Campbell said.

"The golden algae was the kicker, this thing slipped up on us. Yes, if treatment had been installed a long time ago, this may not have happened," he said, "no one had reason to believe in any of those points in time that the chloride levels or the TDS values would increase the way they did."

In mid September, CONSOL stopped pumping discharges from their Blacksville #2 mine pool. CONSOL officials deny that the company"s mining activities caused the fish kill.