Cheat River

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, for decades, the Cheat River and its tributaries were known for the tell-tale bright orange discoloration of acid mine drainage. Twenty-five years later, the river is on the verge of a nearly complete restoration. Much of the success is a result of a decision among regulators, scientists and a local conservation group to treat the pollution problem as an entire watershed, instead of mine by mine. Brittany Patterson takes us to Preston County to learn more.

Brittany Patterson / WVPB

On a recent sunny Wednesday, Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of West Virginia University’s Water Research Institute, was standing on a bridge looking out at Big Sandy Creek. It was a balmy afternoon, perfect for kayaking, and the creek running the Cheat River was clear. But 25 years ago, this water was a shocking orange color -- from acid mine drainage.

Cheat River
TimK MSI / Wikimedia Commons

The Cheat River flows pale green and slate gray, glistening in the sunshine as it gathers speed, turns to whitewater and drops between rocks on the way toward the Monongahela River. From there it makes its way to the Ohio River and the drinking water of millions of people.

As West Virginia pushes toward an uncertain economic future, a river that once flowed bright orange charts a course out of mining's toxic legacies.

Parsons suffered significant damage due to the rains brought on by Tropical Storm Juan
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online; The Parson's Advocate. / Tropical Storm Juan, Parsons WV, North Branch of the Potomac River, South Branch Valley

In the predawn hours of November 4, 1985, a large band of rain began forming from North Carolina to West Virginia. The storm was stronger than most because it was picking up moisture from Tropical Storm Juan, which had hit the Southeast just days before. 

Department of Environmental Protection, DEP
Department of Environmental Protection

State regulators say a discharge of water from an old mine is the likely cause of orange rocks in the Cheat River.

Boaters reported seeing orange rocks at the mouth of Muddy Creek. The DEP says it believes something happened inside the old mine near Valley Point that created a temporary blockage, such as a roof collapse.

Bitmapped / wikimedia Commons

  The federal government has awarded a $24,000 grant to improve access to the Cheat River in Preston County.

Friends of the Cheat executive director Amanda Pitzer tells The Dominion Post that the funding will be used to design and build a river access at a railroad trestle in Rowlesburg.

Pitzer says the project is expected to be completed in about two years.