Friday, October 29, 2010

HHEI Sampling in Captina Tributaries

HHEI (Headwater Habitat Evaluation Index) is a metric the EPA uses to assess the quality of headwater streams in a watershed.  A headwater stream is defined as one whose drainage area is 1 square mile or less.  The assessment factors in characteristics like macroinvertebrate and small vertebrate (salamanders, small fish) populations, stream substrate, maximum pool depths, and bank widths.  The EPA is in the process of compiling data for all of the headwater streams in the Captina watershed but it is a very time-consuming process because there are so many (17 in the Cat Run subwatershed alone!).  I have posted a few pictures from our trip Wednesday to an unnamed trib in the South Fork subwatershed near the SR 26 bridge.

OEPA biologist Ed Moore samples the substrate in the stream

OEPA macroinvertebrate specialist Mike Bolton surveys leaf litter
collected from the stream for macroinvertebrates like stone, may
and caddisflies.  Mike certainly knows his bugs.  Laura Hughes (left)
and Leah Graham (rear) assist in the collection process.

A great find!  Two adult spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus
porphyriticus) were discovered at this site.  The spring salamander
is a resident of cold, shallow streams particularly around spring
seeps on the creek bank.  Check under rocks and leaf litter piled
against shaley outcrops at the stream's edge as well.  Adults can
reach upwards of 6 inches in length and are usually a dull reddish-
orange color. 

Kelly records conductivity and dissolved oxygen levels within
the stream.  Conductivity values give an idea of how much dissolved
solids like metals are in the water.

Chris Skalski is a salamander (salamander whisperer) specialist from
OEPA.  Chris and I were able to trade some good information about
 local salamander populations and habitat within the watershed.  We
are hoping to do some vernal pool work later this spring. 

A sampling of the biotic fauna of this tributary to the South Fork.
Check out the two-lined salamander larvae (Eurycea cirregea) and
the stone fly nymphs.  Needless to say this stream grades
outstanding habitat.

More to come soon..... 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Slurry Spill Update Continued

More pics from the AEC slurry spill area along Captina Creek.

The lone remaining earthen dike approximately 1/8th of a mile east
of the SR 148 bridge  in western Washington Township.  The
dikes were bulldozed from substrate in the creekbed to slow the
progression of slurry-contaminated water downstream.  They
are a vital component of the cleanup process but their construction
is environmentally disruptive to creek habitat 

The main entrance to the spill cleanup area.  This creekside field
is over a thousand feet in length and has been graded and reseeded
following two weeks of heavy traffic from machinery.  Hopefully
some of the seed germinates before winter to reduce erosion and
sedimentation into the creek. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

AEC Coal Slurry Spill Update

Three weeks have now passed since a transfer pipe containing pressurized coal slurry burst in a hay field next to Captina Creek in Wayne Township allowing the substance to flow directly into the watershed for a brief period of time.  According to AEC environmental compliance officials, spill cleanup efforts finished early last week though monitoring continues in the affected area of the creek.  Over the last two weeks EPA scientists have also conducted assessments in the spill zone to determine impact on the biotic fauna, particularly fish and macroinvertebrates (crayfish, caddis flies, snails, etc.).  Although the results of the impact study have yet to be released, preliminary findings indicate the diversity in the spill zone remains intact but populations of organisms are lower than expected.  This is true for both fish and macros.  Although a diversity of fish still exist in the spill zone (variegate and greenside darters, madtoms and hogsuckers were found!), few of the larger species of fish were encountered (small and large mouth bass, sunfish,  etc.).  I was able to visit the spill zone Saturday morning and these are a few of the sights I encountered.

A haybale dam used to sit in this section of the creek to absorb
slurry and slow the current.  It has been removed and the creek
is starting to return to normal although some gray sediment
remains on the rocks in the pools.
A riffle about 50 feet upstream from the previous image.  Most
of the rocks in this section are fairly clean although some dark
sediment remains.  It seems the riffles have recovered faster
than the deeper pools just by looks

It wasn't just the spill that impacted the environment, it was also
the cleanup process.  Makeshift roads had to be cut into the creek's
riparian corridor to allow vacuum trucks access to the spill zone.
Although these roads have been reclaimed to some extent it will be
years before they regrow to pre-spill condition.  Also, the soil
has undergone a major amount of compaction making the restablishment
of trees that much more difficult.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Heavy Frost this Morning

Those who didn't receive a touch of frost Wednesday definitely got their share last night as temperatures fell into the low 30's with clear skies and no wind to mix the atmosphere.  Any leaves left of the deciduous trees of the watershed should fall by the end of the month except for the oaks and beeches which can retain leaves through the majority of winter.

Watch for an update on the AEC slurry spill coming soon.

Also, I added a template for an easy to use cut-and-paste moon phase finder in the educational materials section.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Frost of Season

The past week has been pretty chilly in the Captina watershed with highs in the upper 50's and lows in the 30's.  The morning of October 20th marked the first official frost for the watershed as temperatures dipped into the mid and low 30's under clear skies and light winds.  The first frost usually signals an end to the growing season and is a prelude for the next several months to come.  The deeper valleys closer to the Ohio River may not have experienced the frost due to the heating capability of the river which tends to keep nightly temps slightly warmer than those on the ridgetops of the watershed at this time of the year. 

The average first frost in Moundsville, West Virginia (located about 8 miles north of the mouth of Captina) is October 19th and the last frost date is April 30th.  A pretty good correlation so far this year.

**Make sure you check out the new page I constructed on climatology statistics in the watershed.  It is located in the "Pages" section of the right-hand margin.  The only data I could find for the watershed (that was free) was for Barnesville located at the headwaters.  Great information! 

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Buckeyes

While we are on the subject of buckeyes I thought I would introduce you to one of a different sort.  The Common Buckeye Junonia coenia is not a tree but a colorful butterfly found in the Captina watershed.  It's getting late in the growing season to encounter live adult butterflies and those that are found are usually a bit tattered.  The common buckeye is a member of the brushfoot family of butterflies including the viceroy, red admiral and mourning cloak among others.  Adults will visit asters and chicory while the caterpillars prefer plaintains as host plants.  Look for buckeyes along utility and transportation right-of-ways and in clearings within wooded stands.

This individual was found along a railway next to the creek.  It still
has decent color despite the damage to its left wing.  Note the distinctive
circular markings on the wings that give the butterfly its name.  The
butterfly sits next to an elm leaf for size comparison.  Much aster was
observed growing nearby.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Yellow Buckeye

Along with the sycamore and green ash, the yellow buckeye Aeseulus octandra is one of the most commonly encountered trees in the bottomlands and riparian corridors of the Captina watershed. Extreme eastern Ohio and the northern panhandle of West Virginia represent the northern-most extent of this species range. Not to be confused with the more popular Ohio buckeye Aesculus glabra of central and western Ohio, the yellow buckeye has a larger nut, a smooth outer husk and in general is taller canopy tree. Yellow buckeyes are usually the first trees to sprout leaves in early spring and the first to lose them in fall.   
*Note:  Buckeye nuts have been known to be slightly poisonous becuse of elevated levels of tannic acid and should not be consumed by humans so keep them out of your mouth and around your neck on gameday ; )

Despite the late summer drought conditions have been great for
a bumper crop of yellow buckeyes.  Certain areas can have several
dozen nuts under one tree.  The nuts can be as large as 2 inches
in diameter but tend to shrink as they dry when broken out of their

Yellow buckeye trees next to Captina Creek.  Note the branches
that are bent toward the ground and the fact these trees
have no leaves left even when others in the forest have yet to
change color.

Yellow buckeye husks are smooth on the outside and can contain
up to five nuts.  The entire structure can be as large as an orange
while ripening in the tree before falling to the ground.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fall arrives at Captina Creek

The overall dry weather of the past couple of months combined with decreasing photoperiod and nightly temperature has brought about a colorful change in the watershed's deciduous forests.  Temperatures the past couple of nights have dipped into the low 40's and upper 30's and the sun is now setting at 6:45 pm.  These abiotic environmental factors signal the trees to stop chlorophyll (green in color) production so eventually the pigment breaks down allowing lesser concentrated pigments in the leaf (anthocyanins and carotenoids) to become visible that were originally hidden by chlorophyll over the past growing season.  With chlorophyll production halted leaves are shed by trees to conserve water over the cold winter months.  Leaf colors are peaking along the watershed this week.  The best way to enjoy the colors is to take a drive along S.R. 148 from Barnesville to Powhatan Point.
A section of forest along S.R. 148 west of Alledonia.  Orange and
yellow colors are caused by carotentoid  pigments while reds are
caused by anthocyanins.  Maples, tulip poplars and ashes are usually
the first trees to turn followed by oaks and hickories.  In this photo most
of the oaks still have green foliage. 

One of the best lookouts to observe the forests of the watershed.
Looking northward from the intersection of twp. roads 101 and 121 in
Washington Township just south of Armstrongs Mills.  Enjoy the colors
while you can - they don't last long!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More Info on Shadyside Biomass Plant

Good morning.  I thought I would pass along a link providing some additional information regarding the conversion of the Burger power plant from coal consumption to biomass.  The information is from a Pittsburgh, PA perspective which is only 80 miles northeast of the watershed.Click here for more details.

Monday, October 11, 2010

First Energy Biomass Plant Planned for Production

First Energy Corp., who owns the Burger power plant at Dilles Bottom south of Shadyside Ohio, is planning to convert from a coal burning facility to biomass burning facility within two years.  Biomass fuel consists of plant material like trees and grasses which can be harvested on a mass scale then burned to produce electricity.  Sounds like a good alternative to coal until you dig a little deeper and work some simple math to figure out just how much biomass is needed on a daily basis to sustain normal energy outputs - in Burger's case 3,000 tons of trees!!!  With nearly 70% of the Captina Creek watershed secondary forest growth coverage and right downstream from the facility, it's understanding why people would be a bit on edge toward this proposal.  Below is a news release from Cheryl Johncox regarding biomass burning for energy production:

  Some Ohio Power Companies Seeking “Green” Credits For Burning Trees

       Several of Ohio’s coal-fired power plants have announced plans to burn chipped and pelleted trees as a means of generating electricity. The utility companies behind the plans hope to receive renewable energy credits or “RECs” for burning wood fuel as “renewable biomass.” If certified by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio or “PUCO,” companies can use biomass RECs to meet the renewable energy requirements mandated under Ohio law – requirements that could otherwise be met through truly “clean” and “green” renewable options such as wind and solar. The PUCO has already granted renewable energy certification to 7 power plants that will use wood as their fuel of choice including First Energy's Burger plant in Shadyside. Three other power plants are currently awaiting PUCO approval.

       Unfortunately, trees would have to be cut on an enormous scale to fuel these power plants, which when combined total as much as 2,100 Mega-Watts or “MW” of potential biomass-to-energy generation. Approximately 25,000,000 green tons of wood would have to be cut and extracted every year if that many MWs were to be powered by woody biomass incineration. This figure is grossly unsustainable: woody biomass energy on such a scale would devour three times Ohio’s annual forest growth if trees for fuel are cut within the state. Put somewhat differently, this much woody biomass incineration could clearcut all Ohio forests in a relatively short period of time.

       Moreover, burning trees for electricity generates more CO2 than coal. Carbon dioxide emissions from biomass are about 1.5 times higher than from coal and three to four times higher than from natural gas. Despite this fact, industry groups are currently asking EPA to designate woody biomass as “carbon neutral” under the faulty logic that carbon released from burning trees will ultimately be stored as forests regrow. The simple truth is that carbon is released instantly when wood is burned, and that it takes several decades for “replacement” trees to regrow. Any carbon stored from forest regrowth would be overwhelmed by the much more rapid burning of trees for energy by utility companies.

       Forests in Ohio provide us with many benefits. They provide places to take our families hiking, biking, and camping, and they provide air and water purification, temperature regulation, soil retention, and habitat for wildlife. Exploiting our forests for biomass energy threatens all of these benefits that forests provide.
        The state of Ohio should be focusing on truly renewable energy like wind and solar, supporting energy efficiency measures and investment in developing technologies for local energy generation and storage to reach our targets. Many Ohioans could benefit from reducing their electric bills by monitoring and conserving home usage. Also, many more jobs will be created if utility companies are not given an easy out that will neither reduce greenhouse gases or reduce air pollution.

Cheryl Johncox is Interim Executive Director of Buckeye Forest Council. To connect on this issue, visit Buckeye Forest Council’s website at You can also follow BFC on Facebook.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Slurry Spill Update

It has now been 8 days since a transfer pipe containing pressurized coal slurry burst allowing the mixture to briefly leak into Captina Creek.  The intensive cleanup effort from American Energy Corporation continues but has scaled back considerably since last weekend.  Rains earlier in the week have helped but much more flow is needed to help dilute the slurry sediment and by spreading it further down stream. 

One of the remaining haybale dams left in the creekbed to absorb suspended solids from the water and slow the flow of water downstream.  This was located about 50 yards upstream of the SR 148 bridge at the east end of the spill zone.

A close-up view of the sediment in the creekbed below the dam from above.  Notice how the water is relatively clear but the gravel is coated with a black slime.  Over time this slime will break down and dilute especially in times of flooding, however isolated pockets will remain in the creek well into the future.  Large rocks in the creekbed that have partially sealed edges are good places for the slurry to accumulate and persist over time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Much Needed Rains Help Spill Cleanup

The coal slurry spill cleanup effort continues along a portion of Captina Creek in Wayne and Washington  townships.  Thankfully the spill area has received about an inch of rain over the past two days aiding the cleanup by diluting the leftover solutes suspended in the creek. Check out the river gauge monitor at Armstrongs Mills in the side bar links.

The milkiness in the water is due to high amounts of clay in the slurry
mixture.  It is not as harmful to wildlife as the darker gray solutes
in the slurry but does travel further downstream.  This photo was taken
Friday morning at the confluence of Piney Creek and Captina in
western Washington township.

Captina rebounding after two days of steady rainfall.  This photo is from
Tuesday morning and shows the water clearing.  Certainly not the
same as prior to the spill but in much better condition compared to
Friday in terms of overall water quality.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Captina Coal Slurry Spill 2010

On the morning of October 1st a pipe that transfers waste coal called "slurry" from the Century mine to OVCC #6 slurry impoundment pond ruptured allowing the substance to flow directly into the creek for a short period of time.  Mine officials were able to quickly contain the leak and efficiently clean the affected section of stream.  A map illustrating the contaminated area is shown below.

The effected zone, outlined in red, begins in eastern Wayne twp
and extends into western Washington twp. to the SR 148 bridge
Now that the spill has been removed from the creekbed officials from ODNR and EPA can begin to assess the impact of the event on the creek's ecosystem.  Fortunately the creek has shown an incredible resilience to such events in the past and has been able to quickly rebound primarily due to the limestone bedrock that buffers the water against sharp changes in pH.