Theres good news regarding the water quality of Deckers Creek, according to a researcher at West Virginia University.
“Water quality in Deckers Creek has improved over the past 25 years,”said Jeff Skousen, professor of soil sciences in WVU s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences and reclamation specialist for WVU Extension.
“This is due to a couple of things. First, mining activities have substantially dropped in the watershed, and the mining was a major cause of acid drainage in the creek. Second, the areas that were mined have been reclaimed or have healed naturally with the passage of time so that water of poor quality is not entering the creek the way it was in 1974.”
Skousen and plant and soil sciences graduate student Jason Stewart were inspired to complete a water quality survey for Deckers Creekwhich flows through Monongalia and Preston countiesby similar work done in 1974 by Michael Teti as a masters thesis for the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences’Department of Geography and Geology.
“Tetis study was very descriptive,”Skousen said.”He located 29 sample points along the main stem of Deckers Creek, collected water samples, and conducted some very simple tests on pH levels, levels of aluminum, manganese and fecal coliform bacteria.”
They found the difference in water quality was dramatic. As Skousen puts it,”In 1974, fish and other aquatic life could not survive in Deckers Creek. In 1999, they could. In the upper stretches of Deckers Creek, we saw an acid reduction in 50-80 percent over the 25-year period.”
But the news isnt uniformly good.”In the lower section of the creek, below Dellslow, we saw an acid reduction of only 20-40 percent, so while the entire length of the creek has improved overall, the change has been much greater in the upper section,”Skousen said.”Only a slight improvement is seen in the lower section in Morgantown.”
Skousen sees possibilities for making the Deckers Creek water quality story an unqualified success, citing two possible courses of action to mitigate a major acid discharge at Dellslow.
“The first option is simply to treat the problem at the water source,”he said.”In this case, a treatment system could be constructed to raise the pH and remove the metals from the water.”
Skousen estimates initial costs for this option to be around $500,000, with an additional annual cost of $40,000 for chemicals maintenance and other expenses.
“For the second option, we would have to locate maps of the old underground mine and pinpoint the caverns and tunnels. Then, from the surface, boreholes would be drilled down into the mine, allowing us to pump alkaline material into the tunnels to partially treat the water underground and to decrease the amount of water flowing through the mine,”Skousen said. Problems associated with this method are incomplete or inaccurate maps, inconvenience to landowners residing on the surface of the mine and access to the areas in question, he added.
Either option is expensive, but he contends the prospect of a clean Deckers Creek is worth the effort. The West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Department of Agricultures Natural Resources Conservation Service are both planning reclamation projects in the Deckers Creek watershed. A local group, Friends of Deckers Creek, is also heavily involved in clean-up efforts.
“I have watched Deckers Creek for many years and wondered what can be done,”Skousen said.”Having a clean Deckers Creek flowing through Morgantown would be terrific. I think local residents would take great pride in a clean creek. Marilla Park sits next to it, the rail-trail follows it, and the new amphitheater on the river is right at the mouth where Deckers Creek flows into the Monongahela River.”
“With a clean creek of this size, its use would be incredible,”he said.