Category Archives: Acid Mine Drainage

Update on the Camp Run – Rock Run – Cooks Run AMD Project

Work is progressing on the Camp Run AMD remediation project. I visited the site on Friday, April 13, 2018.



If at all possible stay off Cole Run Road! The road is in bad shape from the lime trucks moving up and down the road. And Cole Run Road is not a road you want to meet a tri-axel on, and if you meet one you will probably meet three or four others. Also remember that this is an active mine site. Do not drive where it looks like you can. Equipment operators may not be aware you are near their equipment. This equipment cannot and will not stop on a dime. Stay back from the edges of highwalls, lowwalls and spoil piles. The material is loose and can slide. 

There is more coal refuse on the site than I expected to see. I am confident that this is the fix necessary. Once the alkaline material is mixed into the old mine spoil it will remediate the AMDpermanently.  On the day I visited they had two loaders and a dozer working. Two more dozers were in some state of repair. 

Other equipment was sitting idle.





The permanent reclamation of the site is the best chance for the recovery of Camp Run, Rock Run and Cooks Run. No or very little maintenance should be required once the site is completed.

This morning as I returned to my desk I found the following article on the Pittsburgh Trib Live site.

It is a warning to those who think that passive treatment is the be-all ; end-all for dealing with AMD. Passive systems need maintenance. People need to be paid for that maintenance. The bills are starting to come due on some of the early passive systems. It is possible for the great strides made in AMD remediation to begin to backslide.

If all goes well and the site is completed and reclaimed I may be  talking about trout in Camp Run and Rock Run and fishing again on the lower end of Cooks Run in the not too distant future. Let’s keep a good thought.


The PA State Fish – The Brook Trout

The Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is the state fish of Pennsylvania. It was designated as such by the Legislature in 1970. The vote was 182-9. Similar legislation had been passed by the House four years prior but died in the Senate. The chief sponsor of the measure was Rep. William F. Renwick, (D-Elk County). While it sounds rather innocuous to designate a state fish it was actually a partisan debate that pitted warmwater advocates who wanted the Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) as the state fish against coldwater advocates who wanted the Brook Trout.

The Brook Trout is Pennsylvania’s only native salmonid that swims in its streams. It is a member of the family of fish that contains trout and salmon. But the Brook Trout is not a trout at all. It is a char, characterized by light spots on a dark background and is more closely related to Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and Artic Char (Salvelinus alpinus) than it is to the Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) or Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) that have been widely stocked and, in many cases naturalized in streams across Pennsylvania. The Brook Trout is a popular fish being the state fish of Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia as well as the Keystone State. In Dr. Robert Behnke’s authoritative book, Trout and Salmon of North America, he notes the distribution of the fish.

“[The range of the Brook Trout] covers much of northeastern North America. Northward, brook trout are native to the Atlantic drainages of Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec, and to tributaries of James Bay and Ungava Bay….

Southward, brook trout are native to the Great Lakes basin and in headwater tributaries of the Mississippi River of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northeastern Iowa. In the northeastern United States brook trout are native to all Atlantic coastal drainages southward to Virginia and in parts of the Ohio River System of the Mississippi basin. In the southern Appalachian Mountains brook trout are native to higher-elevation streams draining both to the Atlantic Ocean and to the Mississippi (headwaters of the Tennessee River drainage). The southernmost natural distribution of brook trout (and of any species of the genus Salevelinus) is the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River in northern Georgia.”

Behnke further points out one of the mysteries surrounding the Brook Trout. While it is native to the uppermost part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula it did not occur throughout the rest of lower Michigan. Whileit is found in Lake Superior it is not native to any of the other Great Lakes. Brook Trout found in the tributaries of Lake Superior are known as Coasters. They spawn in the flowing water and spend much of their lives swimming and feeding in the lake. Migratorial Brook Trout are also found on Long Island where they will spawn in freshwater and spend a considerable portion of their lives in saltwater. Those particular fish are known as Salters. Sea run Brook Trout in Canada’s Maritime provinces are legendary.

Original acrylic by Dave Weaver.

Brook Trout are amenable to aquaculture and as a result they have been bred in hatcheries across America and stocked indiscriminately. Where they have been stocked in the American West they are often considered an invasive species. This led to a comical incident a number of years ago at the Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp. The aforementioned Dr. Behnke was the keynote speaker to the group of teenagers assembled for the camp. Bob lived in Colorado Springs and would come to the camp to talk about fish and in particularly trout. A number of the staff and instructors would sit in the back of the room to listen to Bob’s presentation. After all, when you have an opportunity to listen to the world’s foremost expert on trout, you do.  One particular afternoon I was sitting next to the presenter who was to speak that evening on TU’s Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture. During the Q & A session one of the students asked Bob if he ever ate the fish he caught. Bob replied that two or three times a year he would go to a lake near where he lived and catch “a mess of brook trout” which he would take home and have a fish fry. When he said that I thought I would have to do CPR on the instructor sitting next to me. Fortunately, he revived somewhat when Bob explained that the Brook Trout had no business in the lakes and streams of the west and they were out-competing and driving out native species such as Cutthroats and Rainbows. In the West they are considered an invasive species and a nuisance.

An angler looks for Brook Trout in Kettle Creek in the late 1940s

The Brook Trout has long been associated with Pennsylvania trout fishing. Going back through some early sporting literature one can find reference to anglers catching sacks and barrels of fish. This happened everywhere from the legendary limestone streams of southcentral Pennsylvania to the large freestone streams of northern Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania state fish is an aggressive fish and will readily rise to a dry fly.

Unfortunately for the fish, they live in some of the most fragile ecosystems – particularly the poorly buffered freestone streams – where timber, coal and petroleum are also found. The optimum temperature for members of the genus Salvelinus is 50o to 57o F, though as Behnke notes “Brook trout are the most tolerant of warm temperatures; in this regard they are more comparable to rainbow trout and brown trout than to other char.”

As the industrialization of Pennsylvania took place mountainsides were cleared of trees. The hemlocks (State tree of Pennsylvania) that provided shade to the streams where the fish lived were also prized for their bark for the tanning industry. As the hemlocks were cut the shade was lost and the streams began to warm. To add insult to injury, massive log drives down some relatively small streams destroyed habitat. Think of it this way: You are sitting in your living room quite comfortable in the summer when your electricity goes out. Now you are sweltering in the heat of summer. You get through the lethargy of summer and have just about begun to recover by the following spring when a bulldozer comes through the middle of your living room.  The choice is pretty simple; you have to leave or die.

After the timber was removed sediment by the thousands of tons was washed into the streams. Food in the form of insects that the Brook Trout depended on was smothered. Then fires burned unchecked across the mountains. Huge volumes of ash on steep-sided mountains washed into the streams not only adding to the sediment load but also altering the water chemistry, increasing pH and phosphorus levels. Trout populations in many watersheds were fragmented, leaving the fish in only the places where habitat remained marginal. It is unknown but it is widely believed that many populations were extirpated.

But small populations of Brook Trout survived, and as soon as conditions in the stream allowed, they returned. Perhaps not in the numbers they previously existed but they did return.

So where does the Brook Trout stand – or rather swim – today? According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the are about 86,473 miles of streams. Of that total number of streams 64% are capable of having habitat that will contain trout in that they are classified as Cold Water Fishes, High Quality Coldwater Fishes, Exceptional Value, and High Quality Trout Stocking.

According to Bob Schott, a longtime biologist with DEP who is now retired,

“Streams can be designated as HQ based on chemistry or biology.  If biology it can either be based on macroinvertebrate scores or Class A designation.  HQ streams do not have to hold a Class A trout fishery.  EV streams have to meet the criteria for HQ plus meet one of the other requirements listed in Chapter 93.4b.

Also, back in the early 70s many streams were designated HQ because the were in “Conservation” areas.  I believe it had to do with watersheds that were public water supplies.

Class A streams should be upgraded to HQ-CWF once the PFBC submits them to DEP.  There is a backlog and I have been pushing for a number of years to get the process moving.”

As Schott points out, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PF&BC) has its own system of designating streams and it sometimes doesn’t agree with DEP. The PF&BC have put together a GIS layer indicating that 15,860 miles of waters of the commonwealth are capable of supporting natural trout reproduction. That’s about 25% of the water DEP says should support trout. Scientists and policy makers don’t always agree.

Acrylic by Dr. Tom Sholseth

To make matters even a bit more confusing to layman, the PF&BC designates streams based on fish biomass. Class A Wild Trout Waters are the highest biomass class given to streams in Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. They are considered to contain the highest-quality naturally reproducing trout populations in Pennsylvania. Class A Wild Trout Waters receive certain legal protections. For instance, they are typically classified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as High-Quality Coldwater Fisheries. Most Class A Wild Trout Waters are subject to standard statewide angling regulations by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The official definition of Class A Wild Trout Waters is “streams that support a population of naturally produced trout of sufficient size and abundance to support a long-term and rewarding sport fishery“. These streams are considered to be the best angling streams in Pennsylvania.

There are different total biomass criteria for different species and combinations of species, but for brook trout alone, the minimum is 30 kilograms per hectare (27 lb/acre), and for brown trout alone, the minimum is 40 kilograms per hectare (36 lb/acre).

Before we go any further I want to clarify a point. Scientists use the metric system. A Hectare is a metric unit of measurement abbreviated Ha. A hectare is 10,000 square meters and is based on the basic unit “Are” which is 100 square meters. It is pronounced Heck – tare not “Hectoacre” or “Hecktacre.” An acre is an English unit of measurement and an acre is about 0.405 hectare and one hectare contains about 2.47 acres. If you can count to ten the metric system is easy; certainly more so than perches, rods, chains and feet.

The PF&BC has designated to this point 2,423.23 miles of streams as Class A trout water. The largest share 48% (1174 miles) is Class A Brook Trout. An additional 13.2% (369 miles) is designated as either Mixed Brook/Brown Trout, or Mixed Brook/Rainbow Trout.

Pen and Ink by Mark Sussino for Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited 1995

In addition the PF&BC has designated an additional 415.2 miles as Wilderness Trout Streams. According to the PF&BC, “Wilderness trout stream management is based upon the provision of a wild trout fishing experience in a remote, natural and unspoiled environment where man’s disruptive activities are minimized. Established in 1969, this option was designed to protect and promote native (brook trout) fisheries, the ecological requirements necessary for natural reproduction of trout and wilderness aesthetics. The superior quality of these watersheds is considered an important part of the overall angling experience on wilderness trout streams. Therefore, all stream sections included in this program qualify for the Exceptional Value (EV) special protected water use classification, which represents the highest protection status provided by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).”

Using the Pennsylvania’s interactive mapping system, software such as MapWindows, or you can purchase Mike Gogal’s Stream Map app for your phone to find the best trout fishing experience to suit your needs.

The brook trout is coming back. Thanks to efforts like Trout Unlimited’s Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, local TU chapters doing habitat restoration and watershed groups working to remediate Acid Mine Drainage, seepage from oil and gas wells, and other destructive forces Brook Trout are returning to streams where they have been absent for more than a century. It is important for anglers, foresters and others to keep an eye on our coldwater resources, report any problems you find and keep fire out of the woods.

Camp Run AMD Project Update

They are now running a couple of dozers, a 988 loader, track hoe and other earthmoving equipment. Things are progressing, but they have experienced a couple of mechanical breakdowns – typical of former Camp Run Project.

The operators told me (I did not get to see it) that when they broke into the ash injection site that the grout moved out about 5 feet from the injection pipe. That was what we planned.

If you plan on going to the site a WORD OF CAUTION!!!  Access the site via the Rock Run Road. There are two reasons for this: 1) the Cole Run Road on top is a mess, 2) Lime trucks are travelling up and down the Cole Run Road daily and you do not want to meet them going either way. Both the mud and tri-axels can be avoided by using the Rock Run Road as long as the winter remains snowless.

As I headed down the mountain last fall they had a rock truck and another loader being put together at the staging area. I suspect the rock truck may be on site – if it is not wedged between a rock and a hard place somewhere along the road. Twenty foot wide trucks and sixteen foot wide roads can make for an interesting journey.

Update on the Camp Run – Rock Run – Cooks Run AMD Project

Work is progressing on the Camp Run AMD site. There is an open pit on the south east side of the site that the day I was there they were using a loader to move lime dust into the pit.  A dozer was pushing spoil to begin preparation to open the next cut. They will box cut and fill through the entire site. 

Note the black lens of material that was sitting on the pit floor.

The dozer operator told me they are encountering pods of black tipple refuse here and there. Almost like a truckload or two. He also told me he had encountered plastic pipe. He said he could seen where the grout had spread out, but it was no more than 4 o 5 feet. There was no pipe visible during my visit.

Lime dust in the cut.

The plan is to work through winter – seven days a week.  They have a grader and a rock truck sitting at the bottom of the mountain.

Underdrain in bottom of first cut. The underdrain will progress across the entire pit floor.

The bridge at Bechtol Hollow has been repaired.  If you are planning on going up that way to visit the site or hunt or whatever, be careful and watchful on Cole Run and lower Cooks Run Road.

What Is Acid Mine Drainage

Since my post last week, I thought I had better clarify what Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is. I dug through the files and came up with an essay from my days back in BAMR.  I hope this clarifies things.

Cooks Run at the confluence with Camp Run.

What is Acid Mine Drainage?  The answer is pretty simple and pretty complex.  The simple answer is Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is any water that comes from a mine with a pH less than 7.   

Now the complex answer.  Let’s start with the water cycle.  Water falls as rain or snow from the clouds and settles on the Earth.  If it doesn’t hit a body of water it either becomes surface water or groundwater.  Surface water runs off and is the basis for flow in many freestone streams.  Think of the streams that feed Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. After a rain or snow melt event they go right up.  Then, just as quick they go back down.  These streams are very dependent on surface water. Water that doesn’t immediately flow into streams becomes groundwater.  Sometimes it has a short flow path measured in hours to go from one place to another, and sometimes it has a long flow path taking eons to go from point A to point B.  Groundwater is the base flow of our lovely little brook trout streams, the limestoners and all rivers and other bodies of water.  When the groundwater drops, down goes the stream.  Groundwater and surface water is often intercepted by man for uses such as drinking, manufacturing, agriculture and making beer and things of that ilk.  Eventually though it is evaporated or transpired by organisms and off to the atmosphere it goes to eventually fall on another part of this blue orb we call home. 

            Now we start getting technical.  When coal was formed back before there was television, video games and the WWE it was laid down as a layer of carbon bearing materials which were plants….not animals.  Over these deposits of ferns, mosses and the lichen (sorry just a little play on words and a poor one at that), minerals of various kinds were deposited.  Coarse grain mineral deposits became sandstone, fine grained deposits became shale.  Depending on the environment these minerals were dropped in determined the quality of the strata over the compressed plants that would eventually become coal.  Some areas that became inundated by the ocean were covered by deposits of limestone.  Some river bottoms had large quantities of sand and silt that was mostly leached of soluble minerals.  Brackish environments full of mud received mineral deposits near where freshwater met the oceans like the Chesapeake Bay.  These deposits were often laid down in an environment quite different from the oxygen rich environment we live in today.  The sandstone and shale piled up quite rapidly (geologically speaking) and their intense downward pressure caused the plant matter beneath to become coal. 

            Okay so after a few million years or so humans found that this black stone cropping out of the cliff burned.  Image the first person to discover that and report back to the tribe.  They probably stoned him for being a witch.  But it was too late.  The genie had been let from the bottle and the race for industrialization was on.  Fast forward now to the early 18th century.  America was a new and growing land.  Resources were plentiful and appeared to the 18th century citizen as limitless.  Lo and behold after the Europeans got established in Pennsylvania they discovered coal.  Bituminous coal was found in western Pennsylvania and Anthracite was found in the northeastern corner of the state.  As the country prospered this fuel source was exploited and the population grew causing greater demand.  Since the coal was laid in layers called seams in the Bituminous fields and veins in the Anthracite fields and the Earth had shifted and it wasn’t exactly level to begin with there was a slope to the coal that came to be called the dip.

Groundwater, remember what that is, was often associated with the coal seams as aquifers (underground water storage reservoirs) because the underclay (the primordial soil on which the plants that formed coal grew) was relatively impervious (water was unable to readily pass through it thus forming what is called an aquatard).  Well the early miners weren’t that dumb.  They found if they started on the up dip side of the coal seam the hole they were working in quickly filled with water and either they or their mule would drown.  Since mules were hard to come by they decided that if they started on the down dip side and mine up, the water would run out of the mine and away from them thus saving them from the exasperating experience of having to perform artificial respiration on a mule who neither cared nor wanted a grizzled old tobacco chewing miner breathing up his nostrils. 

            In the Anthracite region things were a bit different.  Anthracite coal is actually metamorphosed and the veins were folded and compressed.  At the bottom of the fold was the greatest concentration of coal. Of course this is also where the greatest collection of water is.  To solve this problem they dug tunnels through the mountain to drain the water away. 

            Now, remember the overlying rock.  There are mineral deposits in them called sulfides.  The most common one associated with coal is pyrite or ‘fools gold’.  Fools gold has a nasty habit.  When it is exposed to air and water it can form sulfuric acid.  The fools gold in the overburden is already exposed to water in the form of groundwater but there is no oxygen deep in the ground.  Here come the miners and what do they do.  Well, it’s sort of like opening a door on a smoldering fire in the wood stove.  Poof!   So now you have a mine generating sulfuric acid.  That is a bad thing insofar as fish are concerned.   

            If the coal was lucky enough to have a limestone layer deposited over top of it, the water leaching through the rock (henceforth called overburden) received alkalinity as it made its way to the coal.  This was enough alkalinity that it neutralized the acid.  If the overburden was sandstone or a brackish shale there would be no neutralization and the acid would flow out of the mine unabated. 

            Now I want you to think back to your high school chemistry class.  Did you ever see sulfuric acid?  Was it yellow?  Of course it wasn’t yellow!  It was clear, and if you had been paying more attention to the lab work and not your lab partner in the mini-skirt (sorry ladies this doesn’t apply to you) you might have remembered this.  Well then, just where does the orange color come from? 

            Well, in the overburden, the coal and the mine floor there are metals.  In Pennsylvania they are primarily Iron, Manganese and Aluminum.  These metals dissolve in acid.  When there are a lot of metals in solution and they are exposed to air, or they mix with water of a high pH they deposit on whatever happens to be handy, like rocks in the stream.  Iron is the most common because it comes out of pyrite.  Pyrite is made of iron and sulfur.  This iron causes the yellow, orange and reds seen in streams across Pennsylvania and has acquired the name of “Yellow Boy”.  Manganese forms a black precipitate.  Aluminum is a white precipitate.  One of the most common sources of aluminum is not from the overburden but from the mine floor where it is leached from the underclay.  Elemental sulfur is almost never found as a precipitate. 

            Iron and Manganese are not usually in and of themselves toxic.  Instead they smother the aquatic substrate and the organisms that live there by a depositional effect.  Aluminum on the other hand is deadly at low pH.  At a pH of 5.5, aluminum in concentrations of 0.5 mg/L will usually kill all fish and most macroinvertebrates.  Other metals such as cadmium, chromium, copper, zinc, and so on are also present but usually in much, much smaller amounts. 

            But it just keeps getting better.  There are microbes called “ferrobacters“ that actually enhance the production of AMD.  These little critters thrive in AMD and actually speed up the reaction. 

            Surface mining that came along around the time of World War II exposed huge quantities of pyrite bearing overburden to air and water.  Underground mines left huge voids to be exposed to air and water.  Out of the drain tunnels drilled into the anthracite mines flowed massive amounts of water.  Pennsylvania coal mines began generating and continue to generate this mixture of acid and metals and unless abated will continue on for the next millennium or so. 

Two samples of AMD are as follows. 

The Oneida #3 Discharge (Anthracite Tunnel Discharge) 

pH 4.4

Sulfates 45 mg/L

Total Iron  .141 mg/L

Manganese  .474 mg/L

Aluminum 1.950 mg/L

Acidity 16.4 mg/l

Alkalinity 0 mg/L

Flow 1399 gpm 

The Camp Run Discharge (Surface Mine Discharge in Northern

Bituminous Field) 

pH 2.4

Sulfates 1740 mg/L

Total Iron 10.92 mg/L

Manganese 46.3 mg/L

Aluminum 249 mg/L

Acidity 2768 mg/L

Alkalinity 0 mg/L

Flow 5 gpm 

Deep Mine seep into Cooks Run at Bear Hollow

            Both samples are AMD.  Both samples are capable of clearing most normal aquatic life for miles downstream.  So to answer the complex question of what is AMD?  The generally accepted answer is water with a pH less than 5, Sulfates greater than an undisturbed background sample or 50 mg/L, metals elevated beyond undisturbed background samples and acidity greater than alkalinity.  This begs a few other questions.  Is all drainage from mines acidic?  No.  Do all mines leach metals?  Probably in some form or another.  Are certain areas better to mine in than others?  Yes.  Can trout survive in mine drainage?  Yes provided the metal content is low and the pH is not severely depressed.  Does AMD only come from coal mines?  No.  Other types of mines develop it as well, particularly clay mines and in the western states metal mines. Even road cuts that expose coal seams can generate AMD. These and other questions are the subject of thousands of technical articles, books and reports.   

There is a lot of new and interesting science being developed to treat this catastrophic problem.  The Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation estimates that over 7,000 miles of streams do not meet the clean streams standards of Pennsylvania because of mining.  But things are better now than they were even just a few years ago.  Pointing fingers and saying who is to blame is pointless.  It was the energy from coal, Pennsylvania coal that provided the materials to keep us from speaking German or Japanese.  Coal is the fuel that is probably providing the electricity to your computer so that you can read this.  It has been a good energy source and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  New technology will help it to be mined cleaner and burned cleaner. New technology will also allow for us to find ways to treat or eliminate the pernicious problem of AMD.


Forty Years of AMD in Cooks Run – Camp Run and Rock Ru

Me, sitting on Dad’s lap with my brother and sister fishing in Cooks Run, 1955

Cooks Run is my “home water.” I learned to fish on Cooks Run and – even though I don’t remember it – I was told I caught my first trout in Rock Run. As the story goes, I was fishing with Dad, my brother and sister, when I caught a small wild brook trout. I was so excited I ran up to the car, where Mother was reading a book. I thrust the fish into the open window of the car, at which point it decided to un-impale itself from the hook, and dropped onto my mother’s lap. That was followed by a lot of yelling screaming. Somehow the fish survived this traumatic encounter and made it back to Rock Run. However, I was the one that was hooked, and thus began my slide down the slippery slope of trout fishing.

As the years went by, I took to trout fishing with abandon. Fishing Cooks Run below Rock Run there was bigger water which made casting easier for this novice fly caster. I had a bamboo rod in my teens. Don’t get too excited, it was a Heddon, with an old single action open frame reel. I still have the reel. I gave the rod to a “friend” to refinish and re-wrap and to this day the s.o.b. claims he never got it. But I digress.

The bounty of Cooks Run c 1976

Cooks Run is one of those wonderful Pennsylvania freestone streams that tumbles out of the mountains. The insects are diverse – in the non-AMD section – and native brook trout and wild browns populate the stream along with stockies put there by the PF&BC as well as the Western Clinton County Sportsmen’s cooperative nursery.

Cooks Run above the AMD impacted area.

In 1974 things changed for the worse. Cooks Run has the unfortunate geological fate to lie just inside the Pennsylvania bituminous coal measures. Crowley Run, the largest tributary that meets Cooks Run about a mile upstream of its juncture with the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, has been polluted with AMD for well over a century. Even as a youngster I do not recall ever hearing anyone talking about fish in Crowley Run. The AMD was a result of underground mining that began just before the turn of the Twentieth Century. It was further exacerbated by surface mining in the 1950s and 1960s. Through all of that Cooks Run remained clean and full of trout. In 1974 a permit was issued for two separate sites near the headwaters of Camp Run and Rock Run at the opposite end of the watershed.

At the time the area was about as wild as any place in the Sproul State Forest. Two tracks through the woods led to the sites. Two long-abandoned log cabins were near the site. In my memory one cabin had completely fallen in and the other, though standing, was uninhabitable.

Fran Contracting of Wallaceton, Clearfield County was issued the permit to mine, against the objections of the Western Clinton County Sportsmen and several others. That part of Clinton County has high sulfur coal with high ash content. There is no alkaline material in the overburden to buffer any AMD and the coal lies atop an underclay that is high in aluminum. The underlying sandstone is largely fractured allowing groundwater to travel about anywhere. All things considered, it is a terrible place to mine coal.

Cooks Run downstream of Camp Run following the mining in 1977

By 1977 the effects of mining on the Fran sites were noted downstream. Water that percolated through the backfill on top of the mountain became acidic. As it travelled across the pit floor the acid dissolved aluminum – highly lethal to trout at low pH – dropped into the fractures and came out as base flow in Rock Run, downstream of Wildcat Hollow. To look at Rock Run where the AMD enters the untrained eye cannot tell the difference between clean water and AMD. However, when Rock Run meets Cooks Run, the pH rises allowing the aluminum to precipitate out and coat the streambed with a white precipitate. The discharge from the larger 37 acre site emanates from the toe of spoil, and pollutes Camp Run. It has a more characteristic red-orange color that most people associate with AMD. From Rock Run down, Cooks Run wasn’t just polluted, it was dead!

This was my trout water. I was incensed. I wrote letters to the Fish Commission and DER, as well as my state representatives and senators, as well as the local state reps. Only the Fish Commission responded. Paul Swanson was the Regional Law Enforcement Director for the Fish Commission, and he put me in touch with Harry “Snakey” Snodgrass, of the WCCSA.

In June of 1978 Snakey organized a meeting to be held on the stream to see the effects of AMD. It’s been a long time and I don’t remember who all were there but in addition to Snakey and me, there was Jay Johnston, WCO of PFC; Jack Paulhamus, District Forester; Harry Anderson, retired Forest Ranger; Bryce Putnam and D.R. Thompson of DER’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation; Dave Wolf, a writer at the time for the Potter County Enterprise; and a few others.

While standing on the bridge at Camp Run, either Putnam or Thompson made the statement that the stream had been polluted before the mining. At that point someone said, “Let’s throw them in the creek!” The two mining officials ran back to their car and refused to get out for the rest of the trip.

Fran Contracting and their consultant made a few half-hearted attempts to treat the AMD but it was futile. AMD continued to pour out of the site.

In 1981 I transferred to the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation’s Hawk Run District Office. The area encompassed by office included in Clinton County. Among other things I sampled AMD across the region, reviewed permits and talked about solutions to cleaning up Cooks Run.

Late summer morning on the site, with fog lying in the West Branch valley

By then the company had given up and its bonds posted on the site were forfeited. The $11,000 was not near enough to develop a detailed plan to clean up the site or treat the discharge. The Clean Streams Law in Pennsylvania pointedly states that in the event of a discharge that does not meet effluent standards the landowner is ultimately responsible. In this case the landowner is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the area is in the Sproul State Forest. This nuance in the law caused the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (now the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission) to threaten to sue the Department of Environmental Resources (of which the Bureau of Forestry was then a part) for allowing a discharge of AMD to a stream. Paul Swanson, along with a young biologist for the Fish Commission named John Arway went into District Forester Butch Davey’s office and told him in very pointed language of their intent. Well that went over like finding a turd in a punchbowl.

Inter-agency warfare was not something anyone wanted, yet the PFC and DER were ready to go at it. Sampling and studies were conducted. Meetings were held. I was involved in my work as a Mining Permit & Compliance Specialist, and that is how I came to know John. Plans were brainstormed and discarded as being unfeasible, too expensive and just plain stupid. We considered passive treatment – then in its infancy, active treatment, driving the reaction to endpoint, burning the carbonaceous material in-situ and on and on.

After transferring the Harrisburg in 1985 I began to work with Joe Schueck, a hydrogeologist/engineer. At the time Joe worked for D.R. Thompson, mentioned previously who never said much about Cooks Run. Joe was into the “magic toys” of technology. Terrain conductivity, resistivity, magnetometry and whatever other tools or technology Joe could find, we ran on the site. We drilled water sampling wells and collected hundreds of samples. In addition Joe worked with Terry Ackman from the technology side of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Terry had developed a technique where concrete grout was pumped under pressure into backfill to seal AMD producing materials. The technique looked promising. Another key player that entered the picture was Dr. Barry Scheetz, a professor in materials handling and an expert in concrete at Penn State University.

Joe and his “Oh shit! moment at 3 a.m. in September 1992 right after the first load of fly ash was delivered.
Fly ash in the storage bin, being moved to the mixer loading area, 1992

A plan was developed to map the site using the “magic toys” to determine where the AMD was being produced. Then a series of holes would be drilled into the “pods” and a concrete grout would be pumped into the ground. The grout would be made with Fluidized Bed Combustion Fly Ash (FBCFA) which would produce a low tensile strength, high compressive strength grout. Bureau of Mining and Reclamation Director, Ernie Giovannitti was enthusiastic about the project, and somehow we found money to try the experiment.

One of the vagaries of the project was people; we couldn’t hire people to do the job. Mining and construction companies were loath to take on the project because of the remoteness of the site and the questionable technique. Even though the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR) has a construction crew, that bureau wanted no part of the experiment. We would get fluidized bed combustion fly ash from Fort Drum for free, but paid the trucking costs, we could rent any of the equipment we needed. This included concrete mixers, an auger to load the ash and various other things. The Bureau of Forestry loaned us a skid loader and water tank truck. Now all that was needed was people to operate the equipment.

With Ernie’s blessing we put out a call across DER to find volunteers to come up to Clinton County for a week and run equipment. We thought we might get ten or twenty. We got scads of volunteers from all across the department – except BAMR.

John Meehan running the drill, 1992

In the summer of 1992 the project began. Joe Schueck was the man in charge and I was involved as a loyal assistant. I had bitched and moaned for so long about something needing to be done that it was put up or shut time and it was time to put up.

The drilling crew, August 1992, intern Angie, Joe Schueck, Me, the drillers, Jim and Denny
Casing a hole. Me, Joe and Denny

Through August we drilled 545 holes into the backfill. The holes were cased with 4 inch PVC electrical conduit. The lowest section of conduit was perforated with ¾ inch holes to allow the grout to flow out of the casing into the backfill. At the top of the casing was a threaded coupling to allow for the hose of the grout pump to be attached.

At the end of August we were ready to begin pumping grout. The first loads of fly ash arrived on site at about 2:30 in the morning, and Joe and I were there to meet them. Talk about an “Oh shit!” moment. We were now committed.

A pod of AMD material that has been drilled and cased. The casing was cut and a fitting glued to the top. This field was called “Snake City”
A drill field before the pipes were shortened and the threaded coupler was attached. This particular field we called Snake City. The white tubes are monitoring wells.
The fly ash was nasty stuff to work with – either dry or wet. We called the fine powder “Fairy Dust”
Loading fly ash to the auger bin that would load the mixer. 1992
We refined the operation in 1993 and used a closed cab backhoe for loading. Much better for the operator.
The Pozzolanic reaction created quite a bit of heat and on cool mornings water vapor streamed from the mixers.
Pumping a field. Roger Bowman moves the water hose used to flush out the holes before injecting the grout.
A completed hole. The grout in this case flowed up and out around the casing.

Later that morning we began to pump grout. We hauled water to the site via tank truck and dumped it into a collapsible pond. Using a grain auger we loaded fly ash into the concrete mixer and added water with the help of a portable pump. The ratio was 1 part water to between 1 and 1.6 parts ash. The resulting grout slurry was about the consistency of thin pancake batter. Then we drove the mixer to the designated injection field, selected the injection hole and using a concrete pump, pumped the grout down the hole until it would not take any more grout. This was usually expressed by the grout coming out of the ground near the hole or the cap blowing off the top of the casing. Some holes took more grout than others. Some would take more than one mixer while other holes would take only a part of a mixer.

Anyone that has ever worked with fly ash knows that it is fine and dirty. Loading the hopper of the auger at the loading site with a skid loader was dusty – sometimes to the point of blotting out the sun. When the ash was mixed with water the slurry was muddy. There was just no way around it. Through September and into October we mixed and pumped grout. As the weather turned cold

BOF converted Deuce and a Half we used to haul water.
A load of grout heading for a drill field.

we had to abandon the project for the year.

Me, Joe Vatter (a volunteer) and Joe Schueck. Joe is holding one of the perforated casings.

Through the winter we plotted and planned on how to improve the efficiency of the project. Early sample results from the monitoring wells were encouraging. In May of 1993 we re-started the project. That year we had two mixers. The one from the previous year had been worn out when we began and by the time we were finished with it, it was completely shot. The two we got in 1993 weren’t much better. We also rented a closed cab back hoe to load the ash. This was a great improvement over the open skid loader. By the end of August we had completed grouting. Altogether we pumped 2007 cubic meters of grout into the 545 holes and used another 765 cubic meters to cap overtop of some of the particularly bad or “hot” zones.

This is what happens when you drop a tool near a grout hole.

We returned to Harrisburg, convinced we had done what we could and we would see success of the project. We knew that we hadn’t been able to get all of the AMD producing backfill encapsulated but we thought we had made a significant difference. Water sample results were initially encouraging. We were certain we had made an impact on Rock Run.

Through the rest of the decades we continued to sample. The results seemed to diminish. Joe moved over to BAMR to head the AMD Division and in 1999 I too went to BAMR. A change in leadership in that bureau had begun to make it more than a “put the dirt back in the hole” organization.

Joe Schueck (in coveralls) testing one of the anoxic passive treatment bench test systems.

Passive treatment had advanced and Joe formulated a plan to use an anoxic method where sulfates in the water would be converted back to pyrite in a stable form. There’s actually a lot more to the chemical reactions but that’s the gist of it. He began the work on a large scale bench test in late 2000 and by 2002 we saw the results. It was not what we had hoped for.

By 2009 both Joe and I had retired. The sites were still producing AMD but we had tried our best to bring about positive change.

Techniques in passive and active treatment in AMD had advanced exponentially since the grout injection project. In the early 2000s BAMR had tried to collect all the water coming off the site and run it through a treatment system but because of the amount of water and the highly fractured rock, collection of all the water was deemed impossible.

Remining on the small site to the east of the injection site.
The injection site in 2017 ready to be remined.

Further investigation of the site began about 2011 and it was decided to re-mine the small site to the east and mix the backfill with limestone dust. The project began in 2012. All of our previous geotechnical work had not shown significant water on the small site, yet when excavation was begun, significant groundwater was found. Following completion of the site, water was sampled and the results were extremely encouraging.

In the spring of 2017 bids were let to re-mine the 37 acre injection site using the same technique and that brings us to today.

September 28, 2017

Work progressing on site. Baghouse lime was hauled in and underdrain rock was expected the next day.

Two dozers on site but both broken down. A trackhoe was grubbing out stumps. A loader and water tank also on site.