In September of last year, more than 10,000 fish spontaneously died in Dunkard Creek, a stream that runs through both West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Somewhere around 161 different species were wiped out after a mysterious mass of pollutants made its way down what was once one of the most ecologically diverse streams in both states. The toxins, which decimated fish and salamander populations, also took out over a dozen different types of freshwater mussels — two of which are eligible to be federally listed as endangered species. The fish kill was so bad that both state and federal environmental agencies treated the creek as a crime scene.
Recently, local legislators have been expressing concerns that another Dunkard Creek disaster could be on the horizon for West Virginia. As a result, delegates have been fighting hard to produce laws that will help protect our state's waterways. The Dunkard Creek fish kill was the result of a bloom of Prymnesium parvum, a golden algae plant that grows especially well in salty conditions and produces a toxin that is deadly to aquatic life. High levels of total dissolved solids (TDS), which can be deadly in themselves, increase the golden algae's toxicity. There are currently 21 streams in West Virginia with significantly high levels of TDS. About a third of these have already witnessed some growth of the golden algae that decimated Dunkard Creek.
As far as I know, authorities have yet to pinpoint the exact source of the pollutants that flooded Dunkard Creek with TDS, and destroyed an entire ecosystem. The creek is in close proximity to a Consol Energy mine and a gas drilling operation, but neither could be identified as the sole cause. Many environmental specialists within the state suspect there is a great deal of illegal dumping going on.
Local legislators are looking to enact a bill that will require coal and natural gas companies, as well as farmers, to follow new standards on the amount of discharges they allow to enter West Virginia's watersheds. They also hope to set laws in action that will require gas companies to reveal the exact components of their fluid discharge, so that the Department of Environmental Protection can trace any links in pollution spikes.
I cannot explain how overjoyed I am that West Virginia politicians are finally realizing the urgent need to put environmentalism into law. Though it is incredibly tragic that an entire stream had to die to finally get everyone's attention, I guess it is better late than never.
Photo: BLW Photography/Flickr