The Fall Brook watershed encompasses 8.9 square-miles in Ward and Union Townships. Much of the area was extensively deep and surface mined for coal. There are multiple major sources of AMD as well as several minor sources of AMD contributing to the pollution in this tributary. The upper Fall Brook watershed is impacted by tannic acids and acid deposition.
In 2011, the TCCCC/Hillside Watershed Committee completed a project funded by the PA Growing Greener Grant program to treat the acid deposition in the headwaters. 7,815 feet of Hemlock Road was resurfaced with limestone aggregate, 400 feet of open limestone channels were constructed along Hemlock Road, and 2900 feet of open limestone channels were constructed along Ridge Road. An in-stream lime-dosing site was established on Fall Brook off Welch Mountain Road. The pH is increasing as the limestone sand continues to migrate downstream from the in-stream dosing site. Increases in pH are being realized in the Mountain Ridge tributary as a result of the road resurfacing and open limestone channels.
Unfortunately, and much to our disappointment, no significant improvement was realized in the water quality below the in-stream lime dosing site. Further inspection and evaluation on the part of DEP determined that there are numerous small, often intermittent, AMD seeps to the headwaters that negate any benefit of the in-stream lime dosing. There are pockets along the headwaters that do support aquatic life that can exist in these more acidic conditions.
Thus, the decision was made to stop all in-stream lime dosing and focus energy and resources on the AMD treatment systems further downstream on Fall Brook.
Fall Brook Acid Mine Drainage pollution is being treated!
In 2014, Southwestern Energy Company (SWN), through their Energy Conserving Water (ECH2O) initiative, began working with the TCCCC and our partners to address AMD pollution to the Fall Brook tributary. The treatment systems went on-line in November of 2015, restoring approximately 2 miles of Fall Brook and 3 miles of the Tioga River to conditions that support stocked trout populations. Wild Brook Trout have been seen in this section of the River as well.
Two separate passive AMD treatment systems were constructed. One system addresses three smaller AMD discharges on the north side of River Road and the other treatment system treats a single large AMD discharge on the south side of River Road. SWN funded and oversaw the construction of these systems and funded the O&M Trust covering the cost of 20 years of O&M expenses. The approximate cost of this project was $2.5 million.
These treatment systems consist of drainable limestone beds and polishing ponds. An extensive underground pipe network connects the AMD discharges to the limestone beds and ponds. A solar powered automatic flushing system was installed to automatically flush the limestone beds and remove contaminants that build-up over time..
An increase in pH from 3.6 to 7 was achieved during the first year or so of operation but declined more quickly than anticipated. Water quality monitoring overtime indicated that the South system, which treats the largest discharge to Fall Brook known as DFB099, was underperforming. Flushing and cleaning the beds and the replenishment of additional limestone provided a temporary improvement, but not long-term improvement as had been anticipated. Hedin Environmental, working in conjunction with the watershed coalition and using a grant from Trout Unlimited, is exploring options to improve the performance of the system and the water quality.
The treatment systems are situated on Bureau of Forestry property, the Tioga County Conservation District oversees the Trust, and the Blossburg Municipal Authority has been contracted to perform the O&M work.
The TCCCC, on behalf of all of our partners, received the 2016 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for this project.