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.

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