A 60-foot-tall steel silo now sits along the banks of Coal Run in Elk Township, southern Somerset County, all part of a new approach – at least for the region – to treating acid mine drainage.
Grants from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Growing Greener and the federal Office of Surface Mining has funded the $117,000 project, which has been in operation for two months as one of a number of treatment projects helping to clean up Coal Run and ultimately the Casselman River.
The AMD abatement lime doser, located along Coal Run Road just off Route 219 at Boynton, is taking the treatment of acid mine drainage, which for decades has been running into the stream, to a new level.
“There aren’t a lot of these in this area. They are much more common in Maryland and West Virginia,” said Len Lichvar, district manager for the Somerset County Conservation District. “(For us) it’s a little bit more of an experimental thing.”
The silo holds 24 tons of pulverized lime, a supply that lasts about three months, and is equipped with a doser that automatically deposits a pre-determined amount into the polluted stream.
The doser is powered by water from the stream, eliminating the need for electric power to the site. The primary responsibility is in making sure someone monitors the lime levels in the silo and getting a fresh supply ordered, Lichvar said.
The alternative would be a passive system comprised of wetlands, which serve as filters, and settling ponds with the metals in the polluted water dropping to the bottom.
The other alternatives are significantly more expensive systems requiring lime, electricity and significantly more monitoring, Lichvar said.
Roger Latuch, a member of the Casselman River Watershed Association, said the doser is a step beyond past efforts of the group, which recently included recreational initiatives.
“Stream restoration and protection are always our top priority,” he said. “The limestone doser at Coal Run is a big piece of a continuing puzzle that is coming together in an effort of restoring the Casselman.”
While in operation for just a short time, it has been shown to be effective, he said. The pH of the water entering the doser is at about 3.4 and the water coming into the Casselman is about 5.8 pH.
“These figures represent an improvement of more than 20-fold in the actual alkalinity of the water,” Latuch said.
Technical assistance for the doser came from the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts’ technical assistance program and the equipment was built by Lime Doser Consulting LLC of Clarksburg, W.Va., Lichvar said.
Funds already in place will cover the purchase of the lime for the doser for the next four to five years. After that time, supporters will seek additional funding to keep the equipment in operation.
The 1,580-acre Coal Run watershed has been extensively mined for decades, and while the Casselman water quality had been recovering, the process was slowed in 1993, when a surge from the Shaw Mines complex created what Lichvar termed a “serious pollution event.”
Over subsequent years, a number of AMD abatement projects were initiated, including an active treatment system by Rosebud Mining, along with two passive treatment systems and a limestone streaming project, and are making an impact on Coal Run.
The limestone dosing project is the result of a broader idea touted in 2003 and eventually abandoned, Lichvar said. The concept was to recover and sell aluminum and manganese generating funds to operate a treatment process.
Technical issues surfaced and the active limestone dosing concept was adopted, he said.
The Somerset County Conservancy has been instrumental in the project, Lichvar said.
The next big challenge is the Shaw Mine complex, which is behind the Meyersdale High School.
“This AMD discharge is the single (largest) contributor of and to the Casselman,” Latuch said. “Its close proximity to the main stem river and the ongoing mining in the area have kept it on our bucket list.”
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