Morgantown’s fishermen and fisherwomen may soon have a new place to fish—and it’s right downtown.
For as long as even longtime Morgantown residents can remember, Deckers Creek through town has been less than appealing. The creekbed and water are often orange in color, rusty almost, with the occasional milky thread weaved in. There are few signs of life, and the air is sometimes filled with a metallic bite.
These are the effects of acid mine drainage.
The Richard Mine, located a mile east of Sabraton along WV Route 7 and abandoned in 1952, pollutes the creek’s lower five miles by leaking hundreds of pounds of acid mine drainage into it daily. “The flow is huge,” says Brian Hurley, executive director of Friends of Deckers Creek (FODC). “The pH of the water is extremely low, very acidic.”
Metals like iron and aluminum that have dissolved in the acidic water create the rusty and milky colors, and it’s all especially bad for fish: The organization’s Clean Creek Program fish surveys have routinely found plentiful fish upstream of Richard over the past two decades—bass, white suckers, green sunfish, and others—but many fewer below Richard, at Sabraton.
But things are about to change. In fulfillment of a decades-old FODC dream, a treatment system will be installed this fall that will help to reverse the damage in lower Deckers Creek. The project is a partnership between the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Northeast Natural Energy.
Similar to a municipal wastewater treatment system, this system will dose the polluted water with hydrated lime and raise the pH. The dissolved metals coming from the mine will settle from the water and be removed, taking the orange appearance and sulfuric smell with them.
The Richard Mine is by far the biggest source of pollution in this lower part of the creek, according to Clean Creek Program reports. So once treatment begins, sometime in 2022, the creek through town has the potential to recover to a healthier state than anyone’s seen since at least the 1950s—including, most excitingly, fish.
Deckers Creek through town links upper Deckers Creek with the Monongahela River, both of which are healthy fisheries. After treatment begins, Hurley says that fish and other creek organisms will make their way back. “I have people saying, ‘I just want to catch a fish downtown,’” Hurley says, “It’s a simple request.” Larger pollution-intolerant species above and below town, such as trout and walleye, could make their way into the Morgantown stretch of Deckers Creek rather quickly, making fishing in town a good possibility.
Along with new fishing spots, Morgantown residents should be most prepared for the visual transformation that will take place. “It will be striking,” Hurley says. “Seeing orange streams is not really thought of. There is an acceptance of that being how streams are, which breaks my heart.” This transformation will also lead to an increase in property and recreation values in the area. Cyclists, runners, and Morgantown explorers will enjoy the scenic views through the Deckers Creek portion of the rail-trail once again, no orange tones except West Virginia’s awe-inspiring fall leaves to distract from the nature surrounding them.