Friends of the Cheat works to combat acid mine drainage

KINGWOOD — The Cheat River has a long history of suffering from acid mine drainage.
David Petry, restoration program manager for Friends of the Cheat (FOC), said there are 342 spots that discharge acid mine drainage into the river.
He said prior to 1977’s Clean Water Act, no one was legally responsible to clean up acid mine drainage. These sites, called abandoned mine areas, were killing the river. At one point, FOC Executive Director Amanda Pitzer said, the Cheat was considered dead. A river is considered dead when it is incapable of sustaining any form of life, such as fish and aquatic plants.
FOC is working to remedy this problem. Petry said there are 19 sites in Preston County where water is being filtered before it reaches the river. One of these, called the Pase site, is near Tunnelton on W.Va. 26.
Petry said because of the severity of acid drainage at that site, it is the only one in which calcium oxide is used to increase the pH of the water. On a chart of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral, water with a pH of less than 7 is acidic. Those greater than 7 are basic. He said the pH of the water at the Pase site is 3.2. Plants and life forms cannot survive in this water.
Petry said water from the Pase site goes into a collection pond. The next step is running it through a tower, where the calcium oxide is added. Once it is treated, it is sent through two other collection ponds, where the metals are removed.
He said the other 18 sites are treated via limestone ponds. These are ponds lined with layers of limestone in the bottom. The limestone lowers the pH of the water. Petry said all the sites are on private property.
“We are fortunate landowners like Charley Pase are willing to let us come in and treat the water,” he said. “They receive no compensation of any type. We couldn’t do what we do without their cooperation.”
Petry said none of the sites use any type of power such as electric to treat the water. “The only site that has a moving part is a tipping bucket at the Pase site,” he said.
Pitzer said the technology used at the sites is the same as that used in the 1600s. “It doesn’t have to be high tech to do the job,” she said.
She said despite many accomplishments there is still more work to do.
“Where Martin Creek mixes with the upper Muddy Creek, you can see the orange that is iron and the white that is aluminum. Possibly in a few years Muddy Creek can be restored,” she said.
Along with its new office on W.Va. 26, FOC also has a new lab that will allow it to offer meter sampling to homeowners, including Home Aeration Units (HAUs): private sewage treatment systems, regular sampling required by DEP; well water testing: voluntary, referred by Preston Health Department and area labs; and Realtor services: drinking water sampling at tap and wells, bacteria testing of septic systems, required by either the bank or the home owner.