RALEIGH COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – The Office of Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation (AML) at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) is actively investigating black water discharging from an abandoned mine. An abandoned mine (pre-law mine), as defined by the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), is a mine that ceased operation prior to 1977 and has no responsible party.
The black water discharge originates near the community of Helen in Raleigh County. The receiving stream is Berry Branch of Winding Gulf. Black discoloration has been observed within the Guyandotte River, downstream to the community of Allen Junction, approximately seven miles from the point of origin.
Initial investigation indicates the discoloration is a result of coal fines (coal dust) being carried through the pre-law mine. Water flow through underground mines can change due to geologic failures or fluctuations in the mine pool (amount of water in the mine). It is not uncommon for flushing to occur when water-flow patterns also change. Changes in flow patterns can cause stagnant portions of the mine pool to move, which can result in flushing of material that has accumulated over time.
WVDEP staff have investigated adjacent permitted mining operations and found those mines to be in compliance, and not contributing to the discoloration. Staff will continue to expand the area of investigation beyond operations immediately adjacent to the abandoned mine complex.
Water samples have been collected for laboratory analysis. Impacts to aquatic life are being evaluated by WVDEP biologists. Additionally, discoloration has decreased since first reported on 3/2/2019. WVDEP staff will continue monitoring the discharge until baseline conditions return.