Youghiogheny Riverkeeper Comments on Proposed Rustic Ridge Deep Mine

Today we’ll feature testimony submitted by Krissy Kasserman, our Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, at last week’s hearing on the proposed Rustic Ridge deep mine. Find background information on this proposal here and here, and our write-up on the recently held public hearing here. You can also find comments submitted by our Field Technician Carla Ruddock here.

The Youghiogheny Riverkeeper is a program of the Mountain Watershed Association and is the public advocate for the Youghiogheny River.  As Riverkeeper, we use grassroots efforts to defend against further pollution in the watershed, improve water quality and conserve the watershed’s natural ecology and character. We are part of a larger organization, the Waterkeeper Alliance, which is dedicated to providing a voice for waterways across the world.

Champion Creek is a perennial stream, a tributary to Indian Creek that ultimately flows into the Youghiogheny River.  Champion Creek and Indian Creek have designated uses of Cold Water Fishes, and the segment of the Youghiogheny River into which Indian Creek flows has a designated use of High Quality Cold Water Fishes under the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law. The proposed outflow from Rustic Ridge #1 mine into Champion Creek would destroy the uses of the Champion Creek in violation of the Clean Streams Law and the Clean Water Act and could negatively affect the uses of downstream waters as well.

The Indian Creek Watershed, of which Champion Creek is an important feeding stream, is a public water source for 7,000 residents and many businesses. Indian Creek empties into the Youghiogheny River approximately 7 miles upstream from two drinking water intakes that collectively serve over 134,000 residents in Westmoreland and Fayette Counties.  The existing uses of surfaces waters must be protected. The Department cannot issue a permit for the operation of an underground mine where that permit would allow the discharge of an exceptionally high quantity of water into, and at a rate which is detrimental to, Champion Creek, the Indian Creek Watershed, and the larger Youghiogheny River watershed because the discharge will overwhelm the stream and watershed and destroy value and uses, which is prohibited by the PA Clean Streams Law.

With regard to protecting downstream water quality I’ll reference the Middle Youghiogheny Rivers Conservation Plan prepared by Paul C. Rizzo Associates for the Chestnut Ridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited in December 2001.  From the plan:

The Middle Youghiogheny River, often referred to as the “Yough”, is a valuable environmental and economic national resource. The Yough is a high gradient river that flows from the Appalachian Mountains into southwestern Pennsylvania, eventually feeding into the Monongahela River at McKeesport, PA. The Yough lacks significant natural buffering capacity against the influence of acid mine drainage and other more common sources of pollution. It is a fragile national resource deserving exceptional monitoring, remediation and conservation planning.

The plan further states:

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) associated with historical coal mining in the Corridor has resulted in the Yough becoming one of the most polluted waterways in the country. In recent times, however, remediation efforts on the part of federal, state, and local governments as well as public and private watershed groups and other organizations like CRTU have improved the water quality throughout the basin to the point that in some areas, the water quality can be considered adequate. Concerted efforts need to address the remaining AMD sources…

As Riverkeeper, we conduct extensive water quality monitoring across the Youghiogheny River watershed.  Through our comprehensive water quality monitoring program we sample quarterly on all of the major tributaries including Indian Creek and on the main stem of the river including sites both upstream and downstream of the mouth of Indian Creek.  We also have nearly 30 instream dataloggers deployed at sites around the watershed; these devices document water quality at 15 minute increments around the clock.  We have made a significant investment in both documenting baseline water quality and improving water quality around the watershed.  We act as a watchdog.  We file complaints when issues arise, and we patrol the river and tributaries regularly to identify potential sources of pollution. 

 Because of the potential for this proposal to overwhelm Champion Creek and destroy its value and uses, which is prohibited by the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law, and because of the potential for it to create additional mine drainage discharges in the Youghiogheny River watershed which is already known for its low buffering capacity and fragility, the Department should deny this permit proposal.