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Volume III, Number 4

August, 2007

 Aaron Run: An Update on Maryland’s §319(h) Funded Project

 By Danielle Lucid and Anna Soehl, Science Services Administration

 

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Effects of Acid Mine Drainage in Maryland
Unabated drainage from pre-law coal mining operations is the single most significant environmental stressor in the rivers and streams of Western Maryland. Prior to current environmental safeguards, coal was mined in a manner that allowed excess water to drain freely out of the mine, rather than pumping the water out, as is the practice today. The discharged water is not necessarily contaminated, but when it comes in contact with various compounds within the mine, it can become acidic. This acidic discharge is commonly referred to as acid mine drainage (AMD).

AMD forms when compounds such as pyrite interact with water and air. This process includes uncontrolled discharges of iron, manganese, aluminum, and acidity from the breakdown of acidic coal seams and other geologic materials that occurs during mining. Long after mining operations ceased in the 19th and 20th century pre-law mines, AMD continues to enter nearby streams. According to the 1979 Maryland Abandoned Mine Inventory, this practice left the Maryland coal region with a legacy of over 450 miles of stream impaired by AMD.

Currently, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), together with other federal, state, and local agencies, is working to restore Aaron Run, an AMD degraded stream. This work is funded in large part by Maryland’s federal §319(h) Nonpoint Source Program, which currently receives about $2.6 million per year in federal funding for individual grants. The funds are distributed to local governments, soil conservation districts, and other nonpoint source control activities, for planning, policy changes, monitoring, and implementation work.

Project Description
Aaron Run is a tributary of the Savage River located in Garrett County  and has been identified on the state’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waters as impaired by low pH. As a result of this impairment, a multi-year Watershed Restoration Project has been established. The main goals of the project are to:

  1. Remove the Aaron Run watershed from Maryland’s 303(d) List for a low pH impairment
  2. Restore what is now an extirpated population of native brook trout
  3. Remediate numerous acid mine drainage impacts
  4. Protect important economic fisheries

Scope and Results of Project’s First Stage
While Science Services Administration (SSA) administers the project funding, the project itself is managed by the Maryland Bureau of Mines, in cooperation with the Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Council. During the first year, the work focused on generating a list of best management practices suitable to mitigate AMD impacted areas in the Aaron Run watershed, as well as planning and designing two projects scheduled for the 2007 construction season Other completed work includes water quality monitoring, planning and carrying out surveys, drafting and designing the project, working with local landowners, and preparing environmental assessment documents.

“Field investigation and water quality data collected for this project identified four areas that will require AMD remediation to achieve the goals of holistic watershed restoration and native brook trout reintroduction,” said Laura M. Haynes, Watershed Project Coordinator, Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Council. Haynes also noted that “AMD remediation will eliminate the majority of AMD inflow and is expected to raise the stream’s average pH to levels that will be suitable for brook trout.”

After the water quality improves, to re-establish native brook trout populations, Maryland Department of Natural Resources will reintroduce this fish species from existing populations in the Savage River. This initiative will not only promote the recovery of fish populations in Aaron Run but will also help with fish recovery in parts of the Savage River, currently experiencing a 30 percent population reduction.

Future Expectations
To date, project accomplishments indicate that completing the acid mine drainage remediation efforts will create water quality conditions sufficient to remove Aaron Run from Maryland’s 303(d) List for a low pH impairment. An additional project benefit is that it will improve water quality in the Savage River watershed, where Maryland’s only intact populations of brook trout currently exist.

Useful Contacts:
Maryland’s §319(h) Program: Danielle Lucid at (410) 537-4217.
Aaron Run Project: Connie Lyons, Project Manager, Maryland Bureau of Mines at (301) 689-1461 or Laura Haynes, Project Coordinator, Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Council at (301) 689-1465.

:: This Issue's Featured Articles :: Enforcement and Compliance Notes :: For the Record

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