At one time there were over 100 mine discharges in the Toby Creek watershed. Thanks to the persistent efforts of the Toby Creek Watershed Association, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the federal Office of Surface Mining, almost all of the discharges are controlled. Members of the Toby Creek Watershed Association began cleaning up mine discharges in the watershed in 1965.
After 150 years of pollution, the watershed is nearing a full recovery. A final piece in this puzzle was the construction of the Blue Valley Fish Culture Station in Brandy Camp, Elk County. The treatment station took four years to design, fund, and build. The water treated by the facility is used to raise over 6,000 rainbow trout, which are stocked in local streams by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and local fishing clubs.
The Blue Valley discharge is full of iron oxide and flows at a rate of 500 gallons per minute. The facility filters the mine water through a clarifier that uses mechanical aeration to help separate the iron oxide from the water. After additional treatment, the water is circulated through two large tanks with 3,000 fish each. Once the water goes through the tanks, it is sent to a pond and then a wetland to finish treatment before being discharged back into Toby Creek.
The temperature and flow of the treated water are ideal for raising fish. Soon after the facility opened, the results were outstanding: in just five months, the rainbow trout fingerlings were reaching 10 inches in length.
“We only lost 23 fish out of 6,000 since October,” said Bill Sabatose, President of Toby Creek Watershed Association and a member of the board of the Fish and Boat Commission. “And the fish have been growing much faster than in regular fish hatcheries. That means we can raise more fish in less time.”
A goal of the Blue Valley facility was to demonstrate new technology to reliably treat mine water and raise fish, which could then be duplicated elsewhere in the state.