Saturday, March 6, 2021

Chestnut Ridge Trout Unlimited, Western PA Conservancy Partner To Cleanup Mine Drainage In Dunbar Creek In Fayette County


This article originally appeared in the latest PA Trout newsletter from the PA Council of Trout Unlimited.


Dunbar Creek in Fayette County is a beautiful mountain stream managed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as Catch and Release Fly-Fishing-Only.

All of Dunbar’s main stem under special regulation (4.2 miles), and most of its headwaters, an aggregate of 50 stream miles, flow through 17,000-acre State Game Land No. 51, offering public access to what could one day be among the most alluring trout fishing destinations in the state. 

But insect hatches, though improving, remain sparse, and many anglers who fish Dunbar feel the stream has never reached its potential.

Dunbar Creek’s gradual progress toward that potential got a new boost last fall. 

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy completed an $800,000 acid-mine-drainage treatment facility atop old mine workings on Dunbar’s Glade Run tributary, funded jointly through the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener Program, and the Department of Community Economic Development.

The Glade Run trib has tainted downstream water quality since the 1950s, when unregulated coal-stripping unleashed acid, iron, and aluminum into Dunbar Creek via Glade Run. 

Another spate of surface mining followed in the 1980s, when operators’ post-mining reclamation efforts failed. Pollution has been leaking from the mine scars ever since. 

In the mid-1990s, scientists from California University of Pennsylvania’s Environmental Studies Program documented poor water quality in Glade Run, and verified it supported no aquatic life.

Covering about eight acres, the WPC system required grading, land re-contouring, and uses almost 3,000 tons of limestone, high in calcium carbonate, to treat mine discharge. 

The Conservancy’s contractor, Stoy Excavating of Somerset, completed construction in mid-November.

“We are definitely getting treatment right now, but it takes a while for the mine discharge to work its way through the systems and interact with the limestone,” said Greg Schaetzle, watershed program director for the Conservancy. “Over the next month or two we’ll begin to see the beneficial results we’re anticipating downstream.”

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s new treatment system supports and enhances a long-term commitment by the Chestnut Ridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited to improve water quality and establish a wild brook trout fishery in Glade Run.

In 1998, CRTU began experimental dosing of Glade Run’s headwaters with high-carbonate limestone sand. 

Encouraged by promising results, CRTU conducted survival experiments with caged brook trout in cooperation with biologists from California University of Pennsylvania. 

The trout survived and in 2003, using Growing Greener funding, CRTU built an anoxic limestone drain system similar to, but smaller than WPC’s recent addition.

But after CRTU built that system, members have continually found previously undiscovered acidic and iron-laden discharges from the same sprawling mine complex. 

In response, CRTU has maintained a twice-yearly schedule of limestone-sand dosing in the Glade Run headwaters ever since. 

WPC’s new system will capture and treat many of the previously unknown discharges.

Dale Kotowski, former CRTU president, said the group’s members were motivated by their refusal to accept that such an attractive stream, flowing across public land, could not sustain trout.

“On Glade Run’s course to Dunbar Creek, it flows cold and shaded by hemlocks through remote reaches of State Game Lands 51. We considered it tragic that such an otherwise appealing stream could not support trout and public fishing,” Kotowski said. “We congratulate the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy for their initiative and success on their newest Glade Run treatment facility.”

According to Schaetzle, WPC’s new system will require no maintenance, other than limited annual mowing to prevent tree roots from puncturing the settling basin liners, for 20 years.

Schaetzle acknowledged the sustained commitment of various cooperating entities in improvements to Glade Run and the Dunbar Creek basin, including Chestnut Ridge TU, the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Community Economic Development, Fayette County Conservation District, Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the bordering municipalities of Stewart and Wharton townships.

In addition to working to restore water quality, CRTU members do an annual litter cleanup on the Fly-Fishing-Only portion of Dunbar Creek on the Saturday preceding the opening of trout season (Dunbar is open to year-round fishing), and is working with American Rivers, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Habitat Partners at California University of Pennsylvania, and Dominion Energy to improve fish passage in the basin by removing obstructions, replaced with habitat improvements.

“Part of our mission at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is to improve water quality across western Pennsylvania,” Schaetzle said. “Our hope, together with partners, is to make the Dunbar Creek watershed all that it can be again as an asset for the Laurel Highlands region.”

Other Articles

More articles in PA Trout cover--

-- PA Trout Training Opportunities Move Online

-- Fly fisherman Recognizes Charlesworth As Conservationist of the Year

-- Sittler Added To TU's Grassroots Board

-- PA Environmental Professionals Recognize Len Lichvar

-- Chapter Highlights

Click Here to read the entire PA Trout.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy.

For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the PA Council of Trout Unlimited website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates (top of page).  Like them on FacebookFollow PATU on Twitter.   Click Here to become a member.  Click Here to support their work.

Trout Unlimited has over 15,000 members in Pennsylvania.

[How Clean Is Your Stream?

[DEP’s Interactive Report Viewer allows you to zoom in on your own stream or watershed to find out how clean your stream is or if it has impaired water quality using the latest information in the draft 2020 Water Quality Report.]

(Photo: Mark Killar, watershed specialist (now retired) with the Western Pennsylvania


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[Posted: March 6, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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