MAC: Mines and Communities

Firm to pump water from mine into river that's home to rare fish

Published by MAC on 2007-04-07

Firm to pump water from mine into river that's home to rare fish

By Sue Lindsey, Associated Press

7th April 2007

Roanoke, Va. By early next week, equipment will be in place to enable CONSOL Energy to pump water with a high chloride content from an underground mine into a southwest Virginia river that is home to an endangered fish species.

State regulators have signed off on the plan, which the company says is necessary to keep one of the region's largest mines open. But project opponents fear further harm to a river that has just begun to recover from mining's earlier damage.

Buchanan County officials and others are challenging the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy's decision in court, but there is no order stopping CONSOL from beginning its operation.

CONSOL crews worked in the Levisa River in Grundy this week to install a diffuser, a device that will speed up dispersal of the high-chloride water in the 50-foot-wide stream. CONSOL spokesman Joe Cerenzia said Thursday that the discharge could begin by the end of next week.

"It pretty much releases water through a valve system," he said.

The water released into the Levisa, just downstream from a town redevelopment project, will originate in CONSOL's Buchanan No. 1 mine. The company has been transferring that water into an abandoned mine, and now will pump it from there through a 19-mile pipeline to the Levisa River. The discharge is necessary, the company has said, because it has run out of storage space in abandoned shafts.

The project is a first for Pittsburgh-based CONSOL and for Virginia.

The company and the state will conduct tests on the mine water for various metals, PCBs and even petroleum before the discharge can begin, according to DMME spokesman Mike Abbott. The extensive testing is designed to quell fears of contamination from old equipment in the abandoned mine, and follow-up monitoring is required.

Still, local officials are nervous.

"This is going to have such a major effect on the community down here," said Mickey McGlothlin, county attorney for Buchanan. "We feel the company can afford to treat this water."

Cerenzia said the water will be treated for a high iron content, but not chloride.

"There's not an easy way to remove the chloride," he said.

Instead, the mine water will flow into the river at a rate of 1,000 to 1,500 gallons a minute, Cerenzia said, and be dispersed in the river's 135,000-gallon-a-minute flow over a three-quarter mile "mixing zone."

"A mixing zone is a place where animals will die," said Don Orth, a Virginia Tech professor of fisheries and wildlife science who was asked by county officials to review CONSOL's proposal.

The zone that state officials will allow in the Levisa is 10 times the usual length, he said, adding that such zones are permitted in bodies of water that are already impaired. The Levisa is contaminated with PCBs.

"It's a river that was once a beautiful river teeming with fish that had its fish and wildlife destroyed by mining activity," McGlothlin said last month to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which had to approve installation of the diffuser. "But today it's on the rebound."

The Levisa is a popular place for catch-and-release smallmouth bass fishing, according to residents. It also is home to the variegate darter, which is on Virginia's endangered list.

Examinations of the mine water's likely impact have assumed that chloride is the only problem, Orth said. The effect of a mixture of high chloride with metals such as iron haven't been calculated.

The discharged water must meet Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards.


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