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River of the Year Vote: Catawissa Creek, an example of collaboration and perseverance in solving AMD issues | Outside

According to the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR), approximately 5,500 miles of Pennsylvania waterways are affected by abandoned mine drainage problems.

Yet only a small percentage of them offer the immediate rebound potential of the 41.8-mile-long Catawissa Creek, which flows from the underground mining tunnels of Carbon County Point through the counties of Schuylkill and Columbia before entering the north branch of the Susquehanna River in Catawissa.

“The stream itself can be the perfect example of sand and gravel, cobbles and boulders – an ideal habitat for fish, microorganisms, benthic macroinvertebrates and all that make up the food web that supports them. fish that so many people are looking for, ”said Ed Wytovich, president of the Catawissa Creek Restoration Association (CCRA). “It is a beautiful watershed to die for.”

The location and surroundings are also in favor of Catawissa.

“The stream runs through really rural areas, both forested and agricultural. It has a wonderful riparian buffer zone running almost its entire length, ”Wytovich said. “It also has about fifteen tributaries that are home to populations of wild brook trout. All the ingredients are in place for success once the main body of water is cleaned up.

The stream’s potential is one of the main reasons it was nominated – and is now a finalist – for the 2022 River of the Year designation. Voting is now open until January 14, 2022 at 5:00 pm. You can vote once per email address, so be sure to vote as many times as you can. Vote now for Catawissa Creek by clicking here.

“The River of the Year designation would go a long way in helping a growing coalition of associations, agencies and individuals overcome the remaining hurdles in the cleanup of Catawissa Creek through increased opportunities for education and awareness,” said said Middle Susquehanna River keeper John Zaktansky. “Catawissa Creek provides an important example of how persistence and collaboration can really make a difference in these kinds of situations. With the megaphone provided via the River of the Year designation, the Catawissa can provide a valuable model for training courses. similar water affected by abandoned mine drainage. “

Abandoned tunnels wreak havoc on aquatic life

Five mining tunnels that were drilled to dry up mines and reduce the amount of pumping needed by coal miners decades ago, discharge water into the Catawissa stream which, before processing, is rich in acidity and deposits. aluminum.

“Even though the mines were closed a long time ago, we’re still stuck with what’s left of that time because the tunnels are still open and water is coming out of them,” Wytovich said. “In the 1960s and 1970s, a study looked specifically at the Audenried tunnel, which stretches about five kilometers from the mines to the outlet of the water. It turned out to be carrying around 80 percent of the acid load that literally kills Catawissa Creek. If we could fix the problems with the Audenried tunnel, we would restore 40 miles of stream.

CCRA, in conjunction with the Schuylkill and Columbia County Conservation Districts and the EPCAMR, worked to achieve this goal, successfully coordinating the treatment of two of the other mine tunnel dumpsites and attempting a similar project on Audenried in the past.

One of these tunnels, Oneida 1, is in the Eagle Rock development near Hazleton.

“This landfill has a pH that is normally just over 4 to 4.5 and contains aluminum and a negligible amount of iron. We set up a project there in 2001 that has six limestone beds through which the mine water is fed and has an average pH of 6.5, which is about ideal for the brook trout, ”Wytovich said.

A second mining tunnel, Oneida 3, has also been successfully treated with a passive system.
“It consists of a large concrete reservoir about 120 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep that is filled with limestone,” Wytovich said. “The water is diverted from the tunnel through the system and comes out with a pH of around 6.5 and much more reasonable aluminum levels. Both of these systems work.

With Oneida tunnels 1 and 3 treated and negligible impacts from Catawissa and Green Mountain tunnels, Audenried is the only landfill preventing Catawissa Creek from reaching its potential.

“The average flow is about 8,500 gallons of water per minute – so that’s a good flow. The pH sometimes drops into highs-3, like a 3.8, to 4.3 on better days, ”Wytovich said. “It’s an anthracite area with a pretty high aluminum content that is toxic to fish and pretty much everything else in the stream.”

Efforts to deal with the Audenried have historically encountered unexpected obstacles.

“Initially, we had access to limestone sand at a good price and the Army National Guard provided the transport to bring it. They were very enthusiastic and doing a great job, but due to world events at that time it just didn’t work out, ”Wytovich said.

Based on the success of Oneida 1, a similar, larger-scale treatment system was pursued for Audenried. It included large concrete tanks where the water was channeled through a system of pipes through the limestone to be neutralized, then through a series of settling ponds where the aluminum could settle before the water was discharged. in the stream.

“In the fall of 2005, we put it in place through a series of grants and it had very good effects. This brought the pH to between 6 and 6.5 and precipitated a lot of the aluminum, ”Wytovich said. “We had a dedication in June 2006, with a lot of people coming to see what was going on.”

Unfortunately, 10 days later a flood caused massive damage to the system.

“It looks like the mine backed up and exploded and a lot of black water came down. The volume of water was just amazing, ”said Wytovich. “He plugged up all the pipes at the bottom of the tanks and plugged some of the other pipes and everything turned black from the coal and silt that was flushed out of the mine.”

The team applied for a FEMA grant and eventually worked to get the system back up and running in 2011, but another flood blew out the water intake and collapsed the opening of the mine from which the water flowed. was flowing.

“With advice from the Schuylkill County Conservation District and money from FEMA and PEMA, we have completed all repairs to the best of our ability and installed another type of water intake that should be as flood resistant as possible, ”Wytovich said. “Unfortunately, issues arose regarding the rights to enter the property for additional repairs and maintenance, so everything has been on hold since then.

“The good news is that the state is buying all the land upstream. When that happens, the Environmental Protection Department’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation has put on a list of watercourse projects a treatment system that would take care of the Catawissa stream.

Raise awareness, fight against stereotypes

In the meantime, the CCRA and its partners continue to raise awareness and change negative views on the waterway, formerly known as Sulfur Creek and Black Creek by locals.

“The perception is changing now. I haven’t heard of any of these names for quite some time, ”Wytovich said. “The streams in the coal region that flowed orange or had a bad odor were called Sulfur Creek. The ones with coal debris leaking into it were called Black Creek. I think it’s a big step psychologically that these streams don’t have to be defined by their previous problems, but rather that there is potential to fix them and that’s what we’re seeing at Catawissa Creek – a huge potential.

To help take further steps to reach this potential, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association has partnered with the CCRA, EPCAMR, Columbia and Schuylkill County Conservation Districts to nominate Catawissa Creek as a finalist for the River of L year 2022. Voting is now open until January 14, 2022 at 5 pm. You can vote once per email address, so be sure to vote as many times as you can. Vote now for Catawissa Creek by clicking here.

“Mark Twain once said that the river has great wisdom and whispers its secrets to the hearts of men,” said Wayne Lehman of the Schuylkill County Conservation District. “This is true for the Catty, because its waters say a lot about the history of the people who lived through it. From the first camps to the recreation center it has become, the Catty deserves this recognition.

Nancy Corbin, head of the Columbia County Conservation District, agreed.

“This recognition will help the CCRA and its partners continue the good work done to restore the water quality of Catawissa Creek and create a viable fishery,” said Nancy Corbin, director of the Columbia County Conservation District. “We look forward to planning fun and educational events to highlight Catawissa Creek’s restoration efforts, recreational opportunities, remarkable history and the wonders of the Catawissa Creek watershed for all to enjoy.”

Bobby Hughes, Executive Director of EPCAMR, is delighted to promote the restoration of Catawissa Creek so that “future generations have the chance to see aquatic life, water quality, fishing and recreational activities increase and increase. ‘to improve.

“There are populations of native trout and macroinvertebrates throughout the watershed just waiting in healthier tributaries to make their way to the main course of the Catawissa once the historic pollution water treatment is treated. mining waters will be resolved, ”he said. “Honestly, I don’t know who is more optimistic and eager to see this happen: the fish, the bugs or all of our community partners who see the enormous potential for recovery in the Catawissa Creek watershed. “

Find more photos of the creek on the Susquehanna River Keeper website.

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