STOYSTOWNPa. – For a quarter of a century, acid mine drainage treatment systems at Oven Run in Somerset County have cleaned up the Stonycreek River catchment, turning what was once foul-smelling orange water into a centerpiece of the outdoor recreation culture of the region.
Fishing, kayaking, canoeing and tubing now take place on the river, which for a long time was so polluted by the coal industry that children were warned not to touch it.
But acid mine drainage (AMD) never really goes away. It can only be treated.
Oven Run’s original processing systems have reached the end of their lifespan, so improvements have been made in recent years.
A ceremony was held Thursday at the Oven Run Watershed Mine Drainage Reduction Site D to commemorate the work that has been done to ensure that the filtration systems will keep the water in the Stonycreek River clean at the coming.
“These systems are sort of the cure for the disease,” said Somerset Conservation District manager Len Lichvar. “They don’t cure abandoned mine drainage disease. Therefore, if they are not maintained – just like you maintain your house or your car or any other man-made thing – they will start to fail.
“The limestone rock becomes coated. The compost there is running out. These are the natural elements that act on the reduction of acidity, the addition of alkalinity, the elimination of heavy metals, such as iron.
Lichvar called the systems “vital importance” to the region since they were installed.
“The result of this was the resurrection of over 20 miles of fishing in the watershed,” he said. “A nationally recognized destination for kayaking, boating (i.e.) boating, has generated a growing, thriving eco-tourism industry in the Cambria-Somerset region and constantly expanding. It’s an economic asset for the entire Cambria-Somerset region and for all of southwestern Pennsylvania.
Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement Project chairman Thomas Clark says work being done on the river is a ‘case study’ which he cites when opponents say polluted waters cannot be reclaimed .
“One of the adages I always use when talking about mine drainage is that a hundred years ago if you found an orange stream and returned it to its source, what you normally found was a thriving town “Clark said. “But you do the same thing today and more often than not find the opposite, so this pollution has raised skepticism among people.”
But Clark said “like-minded people, from the public and private sectors, who came together” were able to solve the problem, which resulted in “turning a pollution problem into a public resource”.
The inauguration of Site D at Oven Run took place in 1995.
People who helped with the effort at the time but have since died were commemorated at Thursday’s event.
Representatives from the Pennsylvania Watershed Foundation; the Federal Bureau of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement; Pennsylvania Fisheries and Boats Commission; the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; the Somerset County Conservancy and Cambria County Conservation District attended the ceremony, as did Somerset County Commissioners Colleen Dawson, Gerald Walker and Pamela Tokar-Ickes; Navy Colonel John Hugya, formerly the late US Representative John Murtha’s Chief of Staff; and State Senator Pat Stefano.
The remediation project was made possible by state and federal funding, as well as private donations.
“These dollars are wonderful,” Stefano said. “They are needed. They are necessary. But they’re not doing anything to get our area back here without people. You have heard today the long list of those we remember, all those who are here today, and all those names that have been mentioned and the agencies that have all worked together to solve our legacy problem that we had, something none of us here were a part of. It’s something we were dealing with, we have to deal with it and we’re all stepping up.
U.S. Senator Bob Casey Jr. gave the opening address, calling the event “one day we can celebrate a very good win for this county, this region.”
Casey recently introduced the Abandoned Mines Ecosystem Restoration Treatment Safeguard Act that would allow recipients of funding for abandoned mining lands through the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act to set aside up to 30% of their annual grant for the treatment and reduction of acid mine drainage. .
“We can use this moment where you’re going to bring so many dollars into a state like Pennsylvania — like I said, over $3.5 billion — but also tie this layaway to that, so these communities kind of have long-term use of those dollars,” Casey said.
“These treatment facilities are very expensive to run and fund, and the acid mine drainage treatment you have to do takes a long time, so you want to have those dollars, not just more widely for acid mine drainage, but, in particular, for fallowing.