West Virginia has nearly 2,500 miles of stream that are impaired by acid mine drainage (AMD). The source of impairment is primarily from abandoned mine lands (AML), which are lands that were mined and left in an unreclaimed condition prior to the enactment of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA). The DEP's Office of Abandoned Mine Lands & Reclamation is responsible for the restoration of these lands and waters. Although the protection of public health, safety, and property is a higher priority than water restoration is as established under SMCRA, the WV AML program began looking for more effective means of treating AMD and achieving an established goal of full stream restoration to a quality that supports fisheries. The WV AML program elected to move in a new direction and utilize in-stream active treatment. Instead of treating one source with passive treatment, WV AML would treat an entire watershed using in-stream dosers placed on tributaries impacted by AMD.
A full report describing some of these efforts can be found at:
The Office of Special Reclamation (OSR) is required to treat water at each bond forfeited site with mine drainage related problems. OSR is also required to apply for and obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permits (NPDES) at all bond forfeiture sites requiring water treatment. This requirement, at times, results in OSR discharging compliant water into dead streams.
Building upon the success of the WV AML program and their efforts to treat in-stream, thereby restoring an entire watershed, the DEP pursued an innovative “In-Stream Permit” approach that would allow OSR to treat AMD in a similar fashion to improve water quality while meeting regulatory obligations. This innovative approach would require a variance to water quality standards. The WV Legislature approved variances for two watersheds during the 2016 legislative session, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the variance for one of two watersheds included in the variance application. Full approval by the EPA is anticipated. As this is a new approach, the EPA will assist DEP in drafting the in-stream permit. The variance applications and supporting documentation can be viewed in the attachments below.