HYNER - Trout Unlimited and its partners celebrated 25 years of recovery in the West Branch watershed at Hyner View State Park.
Amy Wolfe, Trout Unlimited's (TU) Eastern Abandoned Mine Program director, thanked their many partners, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, countless watershed groups, local conservation districts, and the staff of TU, for their part in this "huge undertaking" of helping the West Branch of the Susquehanna River improve.
The West Branch of the Susquehanna River is far healthier than it had been 25 years ago, showing vast improvements in the fish and insect life, thanks to TU and its partners' efforts, according to its West Branch Susquehanna Recovery Benchmark Project findings.
From left, Amy Wolfe, John Stefanko, Rebecca Dunlap, Michael Smith, John Arway and Pamela Milavec spoke at a event celebrateing 25 years of recovery in the West Branch.
John Arway said he spent the first 30 years of his life fighting against acid mine drainage as a biologist. Now, as the Pa Fish and Boat Commission director, their role was recovery and sampling of fish, he said.
"I can now declare the West Branch fishable again," Arway declared.
Michael Smith, DEP Moshannon district mining office district manager, listed several reasons for the river's recovery.
First, they "stopped the bleeding" after 1984 when laws were enforced to stop new acid mine drainage.
Second, they discovered that watersheds with no new mining activity had improved over the passage of time due to natural attenuation; however, this improvement rate slows over time. Natural attenuation is responsible for 40 to 50 percent of the river's recovery, he said.
Third, remining (mining coal out of old mines) helps restore old mines to current standards, he said, thus reducing acid mine drainage; remining is responsible for 25 percent of the improvement.
Finally, abatement activities (such as the passive and active treatment systems employed to treat the water) are responsible for 30 percent of the river's improvement.
"That 30 percent is important," Smith said. "TU and the mining industries should be very proud of what they've achieved," he said.
After the celebration, Arway said that he's working with Pa's legislature and government administration to ensure that no other industry pollutes the river. One such industry is the gas industry; Arway would like to see it federally regulated and taxed in order to cover the expenses the industry creates. In 1977, the coal industry was regulated on a federal level by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), and Arway would like to see the same happen with the gas industry to "provide consistency from state to state," he said.
The federal regulations for coal mining helped the river recover, he said.
"If it hadn't passed back then, we wouldn't be looking at a cleaner river today," he said.
Wolfe stressed the need for funding in order to address the issues the gas drilling presents.
"We need to make sure we still have funding so we don't go backward in time and to protect from new pollutants from gas drilling," Wolfe said, hoping that the lessons learned from coal mining would be applied to today's gas drilling.
True Fisher, a native of Lock Haven, owns 150 acres along the river across from Baker's Run and Glen Union and enjoys the river and its fish life.
Earl Smith-Myer, of the Clearfield Watershed Association, grew up in the Ashville area.
"When I was a kid, the river was orange; there was no fish. But the law improved it and in the last 25 years, it's come a long ways," Smith-Myer said. He hopes that his grandkids will be able to enjoy it when they grow up.
Dean Mertz just resigned from the Kettle Creek Watershed Association; he worked as acid mine drainage coordinator since 1998.
"My life's work is up," he said, though he knows he'll still stop by the reclamation sites.
"She's the sparkplug to get things done. I'm very proud of her," Mertz said.
Wolfe had her own inspiration. She thanked Butch Davey for being one of her mentors and said the work would not have been done if not for him.
Davey has been with the Bureau of Forestry for 41 years and worked here since 1982. He was concerned with acid mine drainage in Twomile Run and Cook's Run drainages, he said. There was surface and deep mining and impaired watersheds on state forest land, so he wrote to the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation. Pam Milavec, DEP Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation Environmental Services Section chief, sampled the watershed for baseline data, and then Davey took it over. Wolfe came up and did an assessment of Kettle Creek watershed and took over the water sampling and got grants written for projects, he said.
"It's a combination of Pam showing interest and Amy picked up the day to day activities. All I did was make everybody aware of what was going on. It was a matter of getting people to realize the problem," Davey said.