The Babb Creek watershed was once heavily polluted by acid mine drainage from the abandoned Antrim Mine. Underground mining for bituminous coal began the headwaters of Babb Creek before the Civil War and continued through World War II. Several coal seams underlay the watershed and at least six major mine complexes were dug within the watershed and then abandoned. Babb Creek is a major tributary of Pine Creek, entering the main stream at the town of Blackwell, which is the downstream end of the gorge known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. Under normal conditions, Babb Creek provides about 13 percent of Pine Creek’s flow.
Growing Greener grants made restoration of the watershed, a goal established in 1990, finally possible. Shortly following the creation of Growing Greener, the Babb Creek Watershed Association (BCWA) applied for and received two grants: one to pay for a variety of upgrades to the Antrim Treatment Plant and one to build a successive alkalinity-producing system (SAPS) on another source of acid mine discharge. That discharge drains into a pond that feeds both the Babb Creek headwaters and Johnson Run, a tributary to the Tioga River.
In the second Growing Greener grant round, BCWA was awarded a grant to pay for the long-delayed Rattler Mine project on State Game Land 269. A new technology was used—injecting limestone sand into the underground mine tunnels to try to partially treat the acid mine drainage before it reached the surface. SAPS could then be used to further raise the pH and precipitate dissolved metals. Approximately 60 acres of partially reclaimed strip mines and spoil piles associated with Rattler Mine were also revegetated.
In the third Growing Greener grant round, BCWA received a grant to build systems to treat four different acid mine discharges on the mountain west of Route 287 between Morris and Wellsboro. The grant paid for construction of more than seven acres of SAPS ponds, sediment basins, and constructed wetlands to raise pH and remove dissolved metals from three of the discharges. A set of diversion wells were constructed to treat the fourth discharge. Together they form the largest passive acid mine discharge treatment complex in the state and treat the last significant acid mine discharge sources in the watershed.
After more than a decade of work and investment, the effort to restore the Babb Creek watershed has reached its ultimate, seemingly unreachable goal: all acid mine drainage discharges in the watershed are under treatment, virtually eliminating the impacts of the discharge on Babb Creek and Pine Creek.