Acid mine drainage (AMD) has left Catawissa Creek and its largest tributary, Tomhickon Creek, essentially devoid of fish and other aquatic life. The discharge comes from the Audenreid Mine Tunnel, which is the largest abandoned mine drainage discharge in the watershed. Its location at the headwaters of Catawissa Creek has been impacting the entire watershed since the 1930s. Streamflow drainage patterns, surface runoff, and the landscape of the upper watershed have also been altered by previous surface and underground coal-mining activities. Vast coal refuse piles and numerous abandoned mining pits cover extensive areas. The coal seams are steeply pitched and mine workings penetrate deep into the ridges, hillsides, and valleys.
Treatment of AMD from the tunnels was necessary to renew the potential of Catawissa and Tomhickon creeks to become important recreational trout fisheries, boost tourism, and stimulate economic activity in local communities. Fortunately, the Environmental Stewardship Fund provided funding for the installation of a passive treatment system. One of the largest in Pennsylvania, the system treats 12 million gallons of water each year, restoring 34 miles of Catawissa Creek. The project was accomplished by a coalition of private and public stakeholders.
The innovative system utilizes new technologies and design features to treat the high flows of the discharge. The discharge water is diverted into a series of three circular concrete treatment cells filled with limestone. Once inside these cells, the discharged water reacts with high-calcium limestone, which raises the pH of the water and cause the metals to precipitate out of solution. Each treatment cell contains about 4,600 tons of limestone and provides about two hours of retention time. The system must be flushed frequently to manage the accumulation of aluminum hydroxide solids and keep them out of the stream. About every two hours, the treatment tanks are flushed by a series of automatic siphons into a large settling pond to receive the aluminum precipitate. The water then flows into a second settling pond to provide final polishing before it is returned to the creek.
At the dedication of the system, area resident Barb Bartusik told the story of learning to swim in the Catawissa when she was a young girl. She remembered her father saying that he did not think he would live to see the creek cleaned up. Bartusik said she thought it was a fitting tribute to her late father that the treatment system was dedicated on Father’s Day weekend.
This project fulfilled the promise in the motto of the Catawissa Creek Restoration Association: Catawissa Creek—Soon to Be a World Class Trout Stream.