Duncan Slade Published

State Environmental Authorities Plug Acid Mine Drainage Leak

Muddy Creek Acid Mine Drainage

This wasn’t the first time Dave Bassage had seen orange water gush down the hillside and into Muddy Creek.

He was kayaking down the stream when the original blowout happened in 1994 at the abandoned T&T Mine Complex in Preston County.

Last Thursday, another blowout overwhelmed a pipeline at the $8.5 million treatment facility and sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of highly acidic water and sediment into the creek.

The water ran orange once again.

“It was like a recurring bad dream,” Bassage said “It really hit me in the gut.”

State environmental authorities said Monday that crews have contained the leak at the acid mine drainage treatment facility.

Water levels from the mine and the acidity of Muddy Creek have returned to normal, according to a statement from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP).

Due in part to heavy rainfall, the facility experienced a sudden increase in water pressure last Thursday. A pipeline was damaged as a manhole ruptured, allowing 300 to 500 gallons per minute of untreated water to bypass the plant, according to a WVDEP statement.

Bassage, the founder and former director of Friends of the Cheat, a nonprofit devoted to restoring the watershed, created the organization after the first blowouts in 1994 and 1995. Those events brought national attention and funding to the Cheat Watershed.

For the last 25 years, the organization worked to restore the Cheat Watershed from the effects of acid mine drainage and bring the river back to life. Just this past year, biologists found 10 species of fish at the mouth of Muddy Creek for the first time in years.

In a statement following the most recent blowout, the environment group called it a “major ecological setback” for Muddy Creek’s recently re-emerging fish population.

“This is ever more proof of the risk abandoned mine lands pose to healthy ecosystems, and that our work is not done,” the group wrote.

The plant is built to treat up to 4,200 gallons per minute of acid mine drainage. During a blowout, the facility can handle up to 7,600 gallons every minute.

During last week’s blowout, the flow peaked below the total capacity of the facility at 6,200 gallons per minute.

WVDEP is working with experts from West Virginia University Water Research Institute and the private sector to determine the exact cause of the blowout and find solutions to prevent future ones.

Since its completion in 2018, the treatment plant has successfully cleaned up Muddy Creek, a waterway previously devoid of life.

Bassage said the important “little bugs” required for a healthy creek ecosystem had returned and the water was less acidic and metallic.

With a rush of orange water last week, the delicate balance of fostering new life in streams long plagued with pollution was laid bare.

“All of a sudden, my old home watershed is being horribly insulted,” Bassage said. “It’s going to take a while to get it back to where it was just a year ago.”