Richard Mine

The Richard Mine site is the biggest contamination source in the Deckers Creek watershed. The former mine leaks dissolved metals and other contaminants into the watershed, turning the water orange and making the nearest tributary uninhabitable by most fish and microorganisms. This pollution is called Acid Mine Drainage, or AMD.

The mine site is around 3 square miles, and each year it adds approximately 145,000 pounds of iron, 59,000 pounds of aluminum, and 3,200 pounds of manganese to the stream. It is the last major AMD polluter that hasn’t been remediated yet.

Most of the mine contamination is concentrated in a 4-inch metal pipe which pours into the Richard Mine tributary to Deckers Creek. This water accounts for only around 1% of the total water in Deckers Creek, but the effects of the AMD are clearly visible as an orange dye in the water and rocks. The contamination is by no means limited to the visible effects, though. The Richard Mine tributary has a pH of around 2 to 3 (to put that into perspective, battery acid has a pH of 1), so aquatic life is nearly impossible.

The Richard Mine was first built in 1902 by the West Virginia Coal Company. Sometime later that year, the Coal Company was bought by Steven B. Elkins, who named the mine for his son Richard. (Steven Elkins also bought the Morgantown and Kingwood Railroad, which became the rail trail.) In 1919, the Penn Mary company bought the site, and two years later Bethlehem Steel bought it from them. The mine was used as the Bethlehem Mine Corporation until 1929, when it was retired. In 1936 it was reopened as the Industrial Collieries Corporation and was called Industrial Collieries Corporation Number 21. It was mined under this name until 1952, when it was abandoned for good.

At some point, people began to realize that the mine was a huge pollution source in the watershed. Several of the mine portals (or tunnel openings) were closed, and in 1990 the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) put a wet seal on the remaining portals. The wet seal concentrated the pollution in a concrete trench called a mine pool. Unfortunately, by 1991 the trench had become so clogged with dissolved iron that it was clear the project would not be successful in the long run. The WVDEP replaced the trench with a concrete box, which concentrated the AMD in a single pipe: the same one that pours contaminants into the stream today.

See more: How do retired mines contaminate the water?


How do old mines contaminate the water?

After a mine is abandoned, a web of tunnels is left behind. Water often runs through these tunnels, picking up mineral deposits from inside the mine. In West Virginia, these mines are almost solely coal mines. A mineral called pyrite, or fools’ gold, naturally occurs near coal, so pyrite is usually all over the tunnel walls. When pyrite (FeS2, or iron and sulfur) is exposed to air, a chemical change occurs. Two hydrogen molecules and four oxygen molecules from the air bind with each sulfur molecule from the pyrite, creating sulfuric acid. This chemical reaction leaves a few molecules left over: iron and extra hydrogen. The iron stays in the water as particulates, and it binds with oxygen, turning contaminated water orange from rust. The hydrogen ions also stay in the water; since pH is a measure of the ratio of hydroxide ions (OH) to hydrogen ions (H2+), the increased hydrogen causes the pH to drop.

Other metals are also commonly found in AMD-affected streams, but an AMD trademark is the orange coloring and lowered pH. AMD can be treated by removing the metal particulates and adding basic substances (such as limestone) to raise the pH. It is an expensive process, but we are making progress towards cleaning it all up.


Acid Mine Drainage animation

Made using: Khan Academy Computer Science.


If you are interested in learning more about the Friends of Deckers Creek AMD project sites. Click the Logo below.


Rehe Wetland Preservation Project

P1000937 The Rehe wetland is a beautiful area, with deep blue ponds and abundant wildlife. It spans 98 acres of protected wetland and 104 acres of upland buffer, with trails weaving through many of the most scenic spots. The ponds, loaded with bass, are a good place for fishing, and the peaceful waters are also perfect for a kayaking trip. The large dirt trails are good for a hike (although sometimes muddy), and there are grassy areas near a couple of the ponds that make convenient picnic spots. The whole area is teeming with wildlife, from ducks to raccoon to beavers, so it’s also a great place for wildlife watching.


However, the Rehe wetland isn’t only great for public recreation. It is a wetland, and as such, plays a vital role in flood control. Wetlands are like sponges that soak up extra water, allowing higher water levels to be stored safely instead of causing flooding farther downstream. The Deckers Creek watershed in particular has had issues with flooding, so the Rehe wetland is all the more important for this watershed.

Unfortunately, there are four pollution sources associated with the Rehe wetland. First, nearby, there is a building that was used to manufacture faucets, and sand containing lead deposits was dumped into a small section of the wetland. Luckily, the lead contamination is limited to a small grassy mound toward the edge of the preservation area, far from the water and not near any paths. Second, the Rehe wetland is very close to a former landfill (you would see it when parking), and landfills of course have various pollutants, although they are not particularly dangerous. Third, a former coal mine is also near the area, leaking selenium and arsenic into the water. However, we know that the contamination from the coal mine is minimal since algae, microinvertibrates, and fish are plentiful in the ponds (if mine pollution is significant, most aquatic life cannot survive). Fourth, and most worrisome, a past air filter plant is not far. To make the air filters, they used glue which caused formaldehyde to seep into the surrounding air. It used to be a much higher risk since the air had had less time to spread and dilute the carcinogen, but at one point it was a real danger. However, it has been a while since toxins were released, and the Rehe area is currently safe.


As a whole, the project will provide wildlife habitat as well as recreational sites. Wetlands serve as breeding grounds for frogs, toads, and fish, and they also are home to a myriad of birds. Once officially opened, the area will be available to the public for bird-watching, fishing, hunting, and other outdoor recreation, allowing people to see and appreciate the wildlife we’re protecting. The project simultaneously preserves invaluable wetland area and provides beautiful areas the public can enjoy.