Editorials, Opinion

Time to fix AMD flowing into West Run Watershed

When residents and tourists fantasize about West Virginia’s legendary waterways, they don’t imagine the water looking like a melted orange cream-sicle.

And right now, the West Run Watershed looks like a far-less appetizing version of the dessert.

Acid mine drainage (AMD) has left the water bright orange from iron and milky white from aluminum. Surface and underground coal mines from the Pittsburgh and Redstone seams leak their wastewater into the West Run Watershed, and recent development along West Run Road has released iron ore into the stream.

Generally, the company that owns the mine or the state’s reclamation fund would be on the hook for the AMD. However, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 doesn’t cover mines opened and operated prior to 1977. And it’s West Run’s bad luck that the mines causing damage to the watershed fall outside the SMCR’s purview. Because of that, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection does not have a “responsibility” to implement a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, of pollutants for West Run.

We reported last Sunday that there had at one time been a collaboration among West Run Watershed Association, WVDEP, WVU Water Research Institute, City of Morgantown and U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to treat acidic water originating from the airport, but no other projects were planned.

It seems another collaboration is in order.

We need something akin to Friends of Deckers Creek — “Friends of West Run,” if you will. The West Run Watershed Association theoretically exists, but if West Run is going to get cleaned up, the association needs to build up the reach, power and perseverance of an organization like FODC.

A project like this also needs buy-in from the community. The WVDEP isn’t obligated to help and, at the moment, neither are the developers who are adding more and more iron to the already polluted stream. The developers have the money and the DEP has the tech and resources to set up water treatment sites. Enough encouragement (read: pressure) from the public could convince them to  do their part.

But community buy-in can’t end at sending strongly worded letters. In order for the water treatments to be most effective, they must be done at the source. It’s likely, then, that this will encroach onto private property, so the landowners have to give their permission. This includes WVU, as part of the stream goes through the university’s farm. As for the rest of us, we may have to deal with minor inconveniences as the issues with AMD and flooding are addressed, and we may need to be willing to put a few dollars toward the cause.

In the end, it will be worth it. As Morgantown residents, we shouldn’t have to just live with the discolored water and the potential hazards from erosion. And as a town that’s trying to attract remote workers and tourists, we should be leaping into action to address such dangerous eyesores as the orange and white waters of the West Run Watershed.