Dunkard CK fish kill

Discussion in 'WEST VIRGINIA RIVER TALK' started by DANZIG, Sep 29, 2009.


    DANZIG New Member

    West Virginia
    Well, we know why now.

    WV DEP needs some serious house cleaning.

    September 28, 2009 · The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection gave Consol Energy permission on three occasions to release more chloride into Dunkard Creek than the law allowed.
    DEP officials did more than that however. They approved an order to suspend water quality standards for Dunkard Creek altogether.

    Environmental lawyer Derek Teaney says it’s one thing to give Consol additional time to meet chloride standards. But he says the DEP was trying to do something unprecedented in its compliance orders: suspending federal water standards entirely.

    “DEP has put itself in a heck of a position here,” Teaney said. “Arguably, it has unilaterally disarmed itself.

    “I expect Consol to point to that provision and say, ‘but there is no water quality standards for chlorides,’ if DEP were to try to prosecute it for violations. And that’s why DEP just needs to be careful about what it puts in these compliance orders.”

    To understand what Teaney is talking about here, you have to understand compliance orders.

    The West Virginia DEP has used them to give mining companies more time to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

    Three of these orders were issued to Consol Energy for chloride: in 2004, 2007 and 2008. They allow Consol to discharge an unlimited amount of chloride into Dunkard Creek until 2013.

    But the company still has to adhere to water quality standards for the entire stream or river.

    For example, Consol might be allowed to discharge more chloride from one mine site, but it still can’t cause the entire stream to become overwhelmed with pollution.

    But in its 2007 and 2008 compliance orders, the DEP actually included language to also suspend water quality standards: “From the effective date of this order…the water quality standards and final effluent limitations for chloride will continue to be suspended for the following permitted outlets.”

    But the DEP can’t just waive water quality standards. The EPA would have to approve – something it never did.

    “DEP might as well have ordered the sun to rise in the west tomorrow morning for all the effect that language has on the compliance order,” Teaney said.

    Because the DEP can’t allow a company to ignore water quality standards without EPA approval, the change to the compliance orders doesn’t have much of an effect. But Teaney says it could cause problems if the DEP decides to prosecute Consol for its role in the Dunkard Creek fish kill.

    DEP Director of Waste and Water Management Scott Mandirola says the compliance order would not hinder enforcement efforts.

    He signed one of the two orders which attempt to waive water quality standards. But he says he doesn’t know how the language got in there.

    “But typically no, suspension of a water quality standard should not take place within an order,” Mandirola said.

    One more thing about the timing of the 2007 compliance order: Teaney suggests the DEP tried to waive water quality standards for Consol in this order, in part because they weren’t willing or able to approve a socio-economic variance for the company.

    In 2005, Consol applied for a variance, which would effectively mean there would be NO controls on the amount of pollution going into Dunkard Creek. Variances also have to be approved by the EPA.

    The DEP rejected Consol’s variance permit in September 2007 – three months after it approved the compliance order which attempts to waive water quality standards.

    “The interesting thing about the June 1, 2007 compliance order is that DEP purports to give them in essence a variance without going through the proper procedures,” Teaney said. “The compliance order goes a long way towards being a de facto variance.”

    Teaney says this is just one more reason to have the EPA take over the state’s water monitoring program. A request to do just that is pending with federal officials.
  2. Catmanblues

    Catmanblues New Member

    S.E Ohio
    Wow what a real informative post. Thanks for the reported article.

  3. corklabus

    corklabus New Member

    West Virginia
    So....... EPA should prosecute BOTH parties involved.
    But bet it'll never happen.
  4. Arkatoothis

    Arkatoothis New Member

    ANGRY. Its easier to pay a fine than fix a problem... Dontcha love beauracracy>>>?

    DANZIG New Member

    West Virginia
    October 1, 2009 · Four watershed groups are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to take over the investigation of a massive fish kill in Dunkard Creek, which is on the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border.

    The groups want the EPA to conduct a formal study of the disaster.

    They also want the EPA to develop a plan to restore aquatic life to the 38 mile long creek.

    The Friends of Dunkard Creek of Pennsylvania, the Dunkard Creek Watershed Association in West Virginia, the Wheeling Creek Watershed Conservancy and the Greene County Watershed Alliance believe the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s claim that a golden algae bloom killed the fish is misleading.

    The watershed groups say the bloom is secondary to the real culprit; they want to know exactly what caused the algae to grow.

    Jim O’ Connell is the Senior Director of Friends of Dunkard Creek.

    “We are mainly concerned that the responses that we’ve received so far from the West Virginia DEP have not been as credible as we would have liked,” he said.

    “We are concerned that the statements that an algae was the cause of the problem disregard the fact that the chemistry of the water has changed.”

    On Tuesday, the Friends of Dunkard Creek sent a letter to Lisa Jackson, the Administrator of the EPA, asking her organization to take over the investigation.

    Dunkard Creek Watershed Association President Betty Wiley says her group also favors this.

    “They need to investigate the entire thing,” she said, “they need to evaluate the past records from water testing, they need to start from square one, and I don’t think they can find out exactly what happened unless they do that.”

    But West Virginia DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco says the EPA is already actively participating.

    “We’ve been working very closely with the federal EPA on this investigation from the very beginning,” she said.

    “We still stand very confident that the algae is what actually killed the fish.”

    Cosco says the DEP may never know how the algae were introduced into the stream.

    But she acknowledges discharges from the mines in the area probably contributed to the high levels of chlorides in the water.

    “Those chloride levels that the mines had been discharging were under a compliance schedule,” she said, “yes they were elevated, and we recognize that.”

    “We concur that the cause of those elevated levels was probably a contributing factor to the presence of algae in the stream.”

    Cosco says the DEP is considering reducing the amount of time Consol Energy has to meet water quality standards for its chloride discharges into the stream.

    Consol currently has until 2013.

    Meanwhile, the watershed groups also want the EPA to develop a stream and habitat restoration plan for Dunkard Creek.

    The EPA did not respond to requests for an interview in time for this story’s broadcast.
  6. moondog58

    moondog58 New Member

    West Virginia
    Wonder who will wake up when it starts killing children.

    DANZIG New Member

    West Virginia
    October 6, 2009 · Officials think an algae bloom wiped out thousands of fish, claimed the stream’s mussel population and has just about killed all of the salamanders too. But questions remain about the role mining and gas industries could have played.
    The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection believes the algae could have been brought in by fishermen from its natural habitat in the Southwest.

    Last week four watershed groups asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency to take over the investigation into the fish kill on Dunkard Creek.

    Betty Wiley is president of the Dunkard Creek Watershed Association, one of the groups that petitioned the EPA.

    The agency declined the request, but Wiley says she’s satisfied as long as the EPA is involved.

    “I wasn’t sure that the states DEPs were capable of conducting the kind of investigation that we need to have conducted;” she said, “now the EPA is definitely involved.”

    Wiley says her organization is disappointed the DEP has allowed Consol to continue polluting into Dunkard Creek, but the watershed association does not plan to sue the state at this time.

    Wiley is anxiously waiting for more answers. She’s eager to see the creek restored.

    But that could be a while.

    More than a month after the initial fish kill at Dunkard Creek, the once thriving mussel and salamander populations are nearly wiped out.

    DNR Biologist Frank Jernejcic says although a final count of dead fish is not certain, the casualties are in the thousands.

    He says this fish kill is the worst he’s seen in his career of more than 20 years.

    “Because of the uncertainty of the initial cause of the kill, and the complexity related to the fact that fish are dying in several locations at different times, and not in a normal upstream, downstream progression,” he said.

    Jernejcic is recording how many live fish remain in the water before plans are made to restore the creek.

    Jernejcic found live fish in two places in the creek’s West Virginia portion.

    One location is above Blacksville, near the mouth of Miracle Run.

    The other is at the Mason-Dixon Historical Park, in the heart of the Dunkard Creek Watershed.

    “I don’t expect there are any large fish in any other parts of the stream right now,” he said.

    West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials say that’s because of an algae bloom, a rarity in these West Virginia waters.

    But DEP Secretary Randy Huffman says it might have been aided by Consol coal company’s mine water discharge sites along the creek.

    “The algae is the culprit, but the water temperature, the sunlight, and the makeup of the water from the mine drainage have worked together to create the perfect storm for this algae,” he said.

    There are two points along the creek where mine water is discharged into stream- Consol’s Blacksville and St. Leo plants.

    Officials have not determined what role the mine water may have played in the fish kill.

    Company spokesman Joe Cerenzia says Consol is not to blame.

    Consol was also taking water from Dunkard Creek to augment other streams impacted by the company’s activities but stopped doing this after the fish kill.

    “We’ve also siphoned the water from Dunkard from the creek for our operations at Blacksville 2. Since this occurrence, we have ceased to siphon any water or take any water from Dunkard for any reason,” he said.

    “Logically, because of the situation ongoing and because the West Virginia DEP has asked us not to take any water from there anymore, which we are not.”

    The state does not regulate water withdrawals. Lower water levels from the withdrawals and lack of rain could have made chlorides in the stream more concentrated.

    Consol was also injecting coalbed methane gas wastewater into the Blacksville mine.

    They stopped this at the DEP’s request last week.

    The DEP says stopping the injections will help determine what if any impact this wastewater had on the creek.

    Consol spokesman, Tom Hoffman, again backs up the company’s position that its activities are not the culprit.

    “There’s no evidence that CBM water characteristics are what we are looking at. Everything that we’ve done, whether it’s that CBM water disposal or discharge from Blacksville 2 is a permitted activity,” he said.

    The DEP has issued compliance orders to Consol three times, each extending the company’s deadline to meet chloride standards.

    In the two most recent compliance orders, the DEP also suspended water quality standards, something the agency cannot do without approval from the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The EPA is currently reviewing the compliance orders.