Mine drainage treatment plant will improve portion of West Branch Susquehanna River

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• $11 million project will treat up to 10 million gallons of mine water per day

BARR TOWNSHIP, Cambria County, PA, Nov. 12, 2009 -- Construction has begun on a mine drainage treatment facility that will restore aquatic life to the upper reaches of one of America's most polluted rivers and improve the economic outlook for the entire region, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

During a groundbreaking ceremony today, DEP Deputy Secretary for Mineral Resource Management J. Scott Roberts said the Lancashire #15 treatment plant will improve water quality in at least 35 miles of the West Branch Susquehanna River.

"No place in America has paid a heavier price for the unregulated mining practices of the past than Pennsylvania's northern bituminous coal fields and the West Branch Susquehanna River," Roberts said. "Here in the midst of some of the most remote and beautiful country in the eastern United States, approximately 1,000 miles of the West Branch and its tributaries are impaired because of mine drainage."

The new mine drainage treatment plant will treat up to 10 million gallons per day of acidic water from the abandoned 7,100 acre Lancashire #15 mine complex. Currently, the Susquehanna River is losing this water because the Lancashire #15 mine pool is pumped, treated and discharged to the Ohio River Basin on the other side of the mountain. This prevents the mine pool from rising to an elevation where it will drain into the West Branch. In 1969, the mine blew out and caused a fish kill for more than 40 miles of the West Branch of the Susquehanna.

The influx of fresh water into the basin will counteract the effects of numerous acidic discharges in the headwaters, restoring aquatic habitat to an estimated 35 miles of the river and improving water quality as far downstream as the Curwensville Lake in Clearfield County.

In addition, the added water will help make up for the estimated 15.7 million gallons that agricultural operations use in the middle and lower Susquehanna Basin, extending the benefits of this treatment plant as far downstream as the Chesapeake Bay.

"Capturing and treating the acid mine drainage that impairs 5,500 miles of Pennsylvania's rivers and streams and reclaiming our 180,000 acres of abandoned mine lands is one of the most ambitious environmental restoration efforts in the nation," Roberts said. "Construction of the Lancashire #15 mine drainage treatment facility is a significant step toward restoring this waterway and the entire region, improving property values and recreational opportunities, and providing fresh water to offset downstream agricultural consumption."

The facility will go online by the fall of 2011. It will pump water from the mine, treat it with hydrated lime to remove metals, and raise the water's alkalinity before it is discharged into the river.

The plant's construction will be financed by Pennsylvania's Acid Mine Drainage Trust Fund, created with funds set aside from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands Fund. The federal fund is supported by a tax on the modern coal industry and is distributed to states as annual grants to reclaim mine sites that were abandoned prior to passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

In addition, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission has placed a $3.9 million appropriation from the legislature in trust to fund partially the perpetual operation and maintenance of the plant. The commission has set aside another $2.1 million for the operation and maintenance of a planned treatment plant in the headwaters of the Clearfield Creek, which is also severely degraded by mine drainage and negatively affects water quality where it joins the West Branch downstream of Clearfield.

Through a combination of federal funds and grants from Pennsylvania's Growing Greener program, DEP and local watershed groups have spent $85 million on 280 mine drainage projects, and have restored aquatic life to formerly dead streams, such as Babb Creek in Lycoming and Tioga counties, Toby Creek in Clearfield and Jefferson counties, and the Stoneycreek River in Cambria and Somerset counties.

For more information, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: Abandoned Mines.

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