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Environment & Energy

Water Testing Begins on Ohio and Allegheny Rivers


After three years of testing the Monongahela for pollution the West Virginia Water Research Institute is now turning its attention to the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers.

Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, the institute’s director, said the institute began testing the Monongahela in 2009 after high concentrations of “total dissolved solids” (TDS) began to appear. TDS include sulfide, chloride, and other chemicals that affect drinking water standards.

“The main finding we identified was that most of the TDS was coming from treated deep mine water,” said Ziemkiewicz, “So this is water that was being pumped out of the active coal mines, treated in their treatment plants to remove metals and acidity, and then discharged into streams according to their permits.”

Ziemkiewicz said, through their research, they found that coal companies could pump, treat and discharge with little restrictions during “high flow periods,” the winter and spring, as long as they backed off during dryer seasons.

He said, since the institute's discoveries, coal companies changed their discharge practices and there hasn’t been another TDS problem in the Mon.

Ziemkiewicz said testing of the Ohio and Allegheny will be “almost identical” to that of the Mon. He said they will also be testing for bromides, naturally forming salts that are released in the shale drilling process and could become dangerous when water moves through a plant treating drinking water.

Ziemkiewicz said they didn’t have the resources to expand to the other rivers until now.

“So far our program has been supported mainly by USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) funding through our water institute, also by coal industry support, which sees this as a useful process,” said Ziemkiewicz. “We applied for a grant from the Colcom Foundation earlier this year and received it. And that allowed us to now move into the Upper Ohio and the Allegheny.”

The Colcom Foundation is providing $700,000 for the project.

The institute plans to release its findings to the public twice a month through a database listing pollution levels in the rivers.