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The Environmental Protection Agency cites abandoned mine drainage as the single largest threat to the Appalachian region. With over 8,000 miles of streams polluted from abandoned mines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia alone, the legacy of the coal mining industry remains. Brook trout, which used to thrive in these waters, no longer exist. Instead, the waters run bright orange, a glaring indication of what has happened. TU’s Eastern Abandoned Mine program is working to bring life back to these rivers and streams and to make them once again places where brook trout can thrive—and where anglers can again cast to wild brookies that once were found in these waters.
TU’s work to address abandoned mine drainage began in 1998 in the lower Kettle Creek watershed in northcentral Pennsylvania. In 2004, TU expanded this successful project into the rest of the West Branch Susquehanna watershed. Working in partnership with over 60 local and government organizations, TU has emerged as a leader in paving the way toward the recovery of more than 1,200 polluted stream miles across the West Branch Susquehanna watershed. Today TU’s Eastern Abandoned Mine Program reaches beyond the West Branch Susquehanna watershed by providing expertise and assistance to dozens of groups across Pennsylvania to address abandoned mine drainage. Restoring streams from the lingering impacts of abandoned coal mines will not happen overnight. It takes years, even decades, to go from assessing the complex chemistry of mine drainage to designing and constructing treatment projects to eventually seeing the brookies return to the once-dead streams. From studying brook trout genetics to researching how the pH and acidity of water affects brook trout recovery in these streams, TU staff are in the forefront of advancing the science of restoring streams from abandoned mine drainage. And as brook trout recovery is celebrated, mile by mile, TU is helping to ensure there are ever-increasing opportunities for future generations to wet that line for native brookies.
The work to repair a landscape from the ravages of mining takes many years, but TU has had great success in working to reverse the damage in Pennsylvania. Acting as a lead organization on abandoned mine drainage in the East, TU’s expertise and technical experience is sought by many organizations. Between 2005 and 2012, TU has provided technical assistance to more than 50 groups on 90 abandoned mine drainage projects throughout Pennsylvania. Working with legislators, TU has had an influential role in shaping policy for the cleanup of abandoned coal mines. TU’s work in the lower Kettle Creek watershed recently paid off when naturally reproducing brook trout were found in the historically polluted Middle Branch, after only five years of treating the water there. In 2012, TU completed a large treatment system that will neutralize pH and remove toxic metals in Pennsylvania’s lower Kettle Creek watershed to improve water quality and help reconnect and restore over six miles of the native brook trout fishery. Given its success to date, TU will continue to expand its reach beyond Pennsylvania and use its expertise to clean up the many miles of damaged Appalachian rivers to make them once again places where fish live and anglers flock to. Working with state and federal agencies, watershed groups and others, TU will continue working as the leader in AMD restoration throughout Appalachia.
Amy Wolfe, Director, Eastern Abandoned Mine Program & PA Eastern Brook Trout Habitat Initiative email@example.com
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