Large-scale coal mining in The Stonycreek Corridor began in the late 1800s, a period when there was almost no concern for the protection of natural resources. Within a few decades, the Stonycreek River and several of its tributaries were badly polluted with runoff from boney piles and abandoned-mine drainage (AMD). Not only was the water acidic - some of it the strength of vinegar - which itself was harmful to aquatic life, but it leached metals such as iron, aluminum and manganese from old underground mine pools. Once exposed to oxygen, these metals dropped out of suspension and coated stream bottoms, choking the aquatic insects upon which life is based within mountain streams.

An AMD evaluation of just a portion of the corridor in the early 1970s estimated clean-up costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars, using conventional treatment technologies of the day. A comprehensive survey in the early 1990s identified and sampled 270 mine discharges throughout the river basin. Only 14 percent of the discharges were meeting all standards for pH, iron and manganese; only five (1.8%) met secondary drinking water standards for pH, iron, manganese, aluminum and fluoride. Comparisons of water samples drawn at Shanksville (near the headwaters) and Ferndale (only six miles from the river's mouth) showed:
  • pH decreasing from 6.8 to 4.2 (as acidic as tomato juice).
  • Alkalinity completely depleted.
  • Iron discharges increasing from 30 to 684 pounds per day.
  • Total-manganese and -sulfates also increased.

However, the Stonycreek River and certain of its tributaries have recovered dramatically over the past couple of decades. Contributing factors include:
  • Reduction of mining activity within the corridor.
  • More-effective mine-regulation by the federal and state governments.
  • Re-mining activity, which has eliminated some AMD discharges.
  • The use of boney materials as fuel for power cogeneration, resulting in the elimination of some waste piles.
  • And the development of passive treatment systems that include settling ponds, chambered wetlands utilizing compost and cattails, and limestone drains

For more information on AMD problems within The Stonycreek Corridor, read this U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigation Report (1996) (1.5mb).

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