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CE3 researcher presents at Water Management Association of Ohio’s annual conference

Austin Stahl January 10, 2013

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This past November, Voinovich School researcher Amy Mackey presented at the 41st annual Water Management Association of Ohio (WMAO) Conference.

Her presentation, titled “On the Road to Recovery – Raccoon Creek Success Stories,” highlighted the progress being made on the treatment of acid mine drainage in the Raccoon Creek Watershed. Mackey is a research associate for the Voinovich School’s Energy and Environment Team and the Raccoon Creek watershed coordinator. It was her first time presenting at WMAO’s conference, which she said helped increase awareness of the success at Raccoon Creek.

“It was good exposure to get the Raccoon Creek story out there to so many new people,” Mackey said. “I am often presenting to the southeast Ohio ODNR, EPA and local watershed folks. This crowd included professionals from all over the state.”

The Raccoon Creek mainstem is 112 miles long, flowing through the southeastern Ohio counties of Hocking, Vinton, Athens, Meigs, Jackson and Gallia, and the watershed covers 683.5 square miles. It is 75 percent forested and has over 60,000 acres of public lands, providing abundant recreational opportunities.

The watershed also has more than 190 stream miles affected by acid mine drainage from historic unregulated coal mining, sedimentation and erosion, all which contribute to a lack of species diversity.

To address water quality issues, a group of concerned citizens in Gallia County formed the Raccoon Creek Improvement Committee in the 1980s, but it was far too much work for a citizens group to tackle. The group expanded in the early 1990s, inviting citizens from all six counties in the watershed, but still lacked the technical expertise needed to deal with the problems.

In the late 1990s, the Raccoon Creek Watershed Partnership was formed by a group of citizens and agency personnel. Finally, in 2007, the Raccoon Creek Partnership became a 501(c)(3)-designated nonprofit, partnering with agencies, organizations, communities and individuals with the mission: “to work toward conservation, stewardship, and restoration of the watershed for a healthier stream and community.”

Raccoon Creek Partners include the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Rural Action, Ohio University, Hocking College, AmeriCorps, the U.S. Forest Service, county soil and water conservation districts, local coal companies, watershed residents, landowners, and concerned citizens, among others. They provide funding for programs, have opened an aquatic education center, and assist with outreach and education.

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The Partnership has had success cleaning up the watershed, dating back to its first project in 1998. So far, the group has secured over $10 million in funding and completed 14 reclamation and treatment projects. In 2011, the projects resulted in an acid load reduction of 5,414 pounds per day and a metal load reduction of 1,052 pounds per day. Significant biological recovery is being seen in the streams as a result of improved water quality. As of 2011, 42 of the 190 impacted stream miles are meeting fish and macroinvertebrate targets. Over the course of her career, Mackey said she has seen just how effective the reclamation and treatment projects have been.

“I feel fortunate to be in a position where, in the 5 years I have been employed, I have seen sections of stream that were dead – totally devoid of life due to acid mine drainage – and now there are fish swimming in them,” Mackey said.

To treat the acidic, metal-laden water, both active and passive methods are used. Active treatments, such as calcium-oxide dosers, actively deliver alkaline metals into the water to neutralize the acidity. Passive treatments like limestone leach beds do not actively add material into the water, instead utilizing ponds or channels filled with an alkaline matrix (commonly limestone or steel slag) to buffer the acidity of acid mine drainage affected streams.

The Partnership has focused its efforts on the areas of the watershed that have been most heavily impacted; the Raccoon Creek Headwaters and Little Raccoon Creek. Planned projects for 2013 and 2014 include five projects in sub-watersheds of Little Raccoon Creek. To ensure continuing success, Mackey said educating citizens, implementing the projects, and consistently monitoring the watershed are the three most important factors.

“Those three things are what keep the recovery happening,” Mackey said. “We need to educate the public on the historical issues that caused the degradation, as well as what we are doing to remediate it. If people understand what’s going on in their communities, they are so much more likely to support it. We never pass up the opportunity to stop and talk to community members about what is happening in their back yards.”

To learn more about the efforts at Raccoon Creek:
View Amy Mackey’s WMAO presentation from November 2012
Link to the ODNR Ohio Watershed Coordinator Grant Program (July 2011 to June 2012)
Visit the Raccoon Creek Partnership website