A River Returns to Life

  

I love a good environmental success story!  

     It gives me hope to know that at least some rivers, once virtually devoid of life due to pollution, have been brought back from the dead, and are once again teeming with fish and other critters associated with river health.  

     One such river I learned about recently is the Cheat River in West Virginia.  In the early 1990s, this 78-mile long waterway that winds through the  Allegheny Mountains to the Monongahela River was in sad shape.  Decades of coal mining in the area had leached toxins into the river system. And, making matters worse, the coal company T & F Fuels illegally dumped millions of gallons of acid mine drainage into one of the Cheat’s  tributaries in 1994, and then again in 1995.   All the abuse had turned the tributary, Muddy Creek, the color of tomato soup.  The water smelled bad, and physical contact could sting the eyes and stain the clothes.  And the pollution, of course, made its way to the Cheat.

     By the mid-1990s, the Cheat was virtually dead.   After the two illegal dumpings, the West Virginia government did some interventions.  But local residents felt the state’s actions were inadequate.  People wanted the river restored.  So local residents, boaters, and fishermen formed Friends of the Cheat River (FOC) to work together to bring the river back to health.  People wanted boaters, anglers, and others to again be able to enjoy the recreational opportunities the river had once so abundantly offered. 

     ”We all knew that it would take a lot of resources” to restore the river, recalls FOC’s executive director Amanda Pitzer.  The group got to work.  They obtained federal funds through a Clean Water Act program dedicated to addressing polluted runoff.  They also got help from the state government, academia, and industry to implement water treatment systems, like neutralizing acidity and reducing metals in the watershed.

     The results have been dramatic.  Today, a diversity of fish can now be found throughout the Cheat River.  One fisherman reported catching at least seven different species.  And the river, with Class 4 and 5 rapids, is a popular destination for river rafters.

     Friends of the Cheat continues to work on behalf of the river.  Based in Kingwood, WV, the citizens’ group does remediation, clean-up, stewardship, and education.–April Moore

 

 

 

 

6 Responses to “A River Returns to Life”

  1. Diane Says:

    That’s really exciting that the citizens’ group made it happen– and inspiring.

  2. Joan Kelly Says:

    What a wonderful story, April! Thank you so very much. We need more of these in today’s sorry age.

  3. Jude Pardee Says:

    Wonderful news — a river that cheated death!

  4. Maggie Says:

    Thank you for sharing such a great and inspiring story, April. Good things can happen when people work together!

  5. Kia Says:

    Awesome story! We don’t get too many happy endings when it comes to the environment.

  6. Amanda Pitzer Says:

    April, Thank you for sharing our story. We invite everyone to join us for the 20th Cheat River Festival on May 3, 2014 where we will celebrate the river’s comeback at the confluence of Muddy Creek and the Cheat. Learn more at http://www.cheat.org and listen to this story which ran on NPR in August: http://www.npr.org/2013/07/22/204580876/fish-return-to-a-mining-county-river
    -Amanda, ED, Friends of the Cheat

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