The Schuylkill Headwaters Association (SHA) is a 501(c)3 organization. We were founded in 1998 with the mission “to promote the environmental integrity of the Schuylkill River, its tributaries, and the watershed that lies within the boundaries of Schuylkill County.” SHA works to protect and enhance the headwaters of the Schuylkill River by educating residents about the Schuylkill River and by implementing projects to reduce and control pollution. There are various sources of water pollution within the headwaters of the Schuylkill River, but the main impairment is abandoned mine drainage (AMD).
What is Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD) and Why Is It A Problem?
Current mining is now regulated, but abandoned, underground coal mines, for which no one is responsible, greatly affect the quality of our water. While the mines were being operated, they were continually pumping water out of the mines so that the miners could work. But after the mines were closed, they filled up with water. After the coal was taken out, the layer of pyrite above the coal underground was left exposed. This reacts with air and water to form the abandoned mine drainage, or AMD. AMD is often acidic, meaning that is has a low pH, often as low as 3 or 4. The main metals in AMD are iron, aluminum, and manganese. As the pH of the water rises and oxygen is added to the water as the stream flows, the metals precipitate out. This forms a coating on the bottom of our streams – it is the same compound as rust. This is harmful because is fills up all the crevices in the bottom of the stream where the macro-invertebrates (or what the fish eat) live, eventually affecting all life in the stream. Other metals have different effect; for example, aluminum is toxic to aquatic animals. The acid also affects fish – they cannot live in streams that have a pH lower than 5.
For this reason, it is important to clean-up the AMD in our streams. AMD pollutes 125 miles of streams in the Schuylkill River watershed, in Schuylkill County alone. SHA works in close partnership with other organizations and government agencies to obatin grants in order to build and maintain AMD treatment systems to treat the water.