A mine blowout sends acid mine drainage down the Cheat. Again.
The state has signaled that all is well again on the Cheat River a week after a T&T mine blowout into its Muddy Creek tributary. The event sent orange-hued acid mine drainage into river waters—not for the first time—and Friends of the Cheat says, “not so fast.”
“We haven’t done any biological assessments just yet, but the damage to wildlife in Muddy Creek could be extensive,” says Amanda Pitzer, executive director of FOC. “It just looks bad. The rocks are stained orange. They’re slimy and covered with a metal-laden sludge, It’s really not a good look for the Cheat.”
Blowouts at this mine have happened several times before. There is a yet-to-be-proven theory that the roof inside the mine is systematically collapsing, displacing acidic water into Muddy Creek. “The treatment plant was not even at capacity, and we had this kind of incident,” she says. And she characterized the state’s response to this blowout not as a solution but as a tourniquet. “As we continue to see very heavy, concentrated rains and spring floods, how are we going to go forward? We can’t kill Muddy Creek every couple of years and claim we’re making progress. That’s not progress.”
As FOC continues to monitor the situation and conduct assessments on water quality, residents who enjoy Cheat Lake in the summer can breathe a sigh of relief. That orange sludge upstream might look terrible, but it probably won’t interrupt summer fun on the lake. Pitzer says the water in Cheat Lake is safe for recreation despite this setback for the river that feeds it. But she does want to emphasize to Cheat Lake enthusiasts the strong connection between the river and lake.
“The lake is the bottom of the watershed, and all the bad water up here eventually ends up in the lake,” she says.” Cheat Lake wasn’t always a place you wanted to swim, and it could become that way again if acid mine drainage continues finding its way into the river.”It’s been a tough couple of years for FOC, which has had to cancel its largest annual fundraiser—the annual May Cheat River Festival—in 2020 and now again in 2021. So if you’re able to give time or money, consider giving to this worthy organization here. Or get a group of your friends together and volunteer by contacting Outreach Specialist Beth Warnick. Right about now they could use all the help they can get.