DAVIS, W.Va. — A malfunction at a lime dosing station on the Blackwater River was blamed for a significant fish kill. The Division of Natural Resources estimated 23,000 fish died in a 1.8 mile stretch of the waterway upstream from Blackwater Falls.
“There are a number of different species. The majority of fish were sculpin, minnows, and darters, which are species representative of a head water stream. Usually those are in high numbers, so it’s not uncommon for that to be the majority of fish, ” said Brett Preston, Assistant Chief for Warmwater Fisheries. “There were three trout which were documented in the fish kill and two largemouth bass.”
The doser is a device built and maintained by the state in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Protection. The system regulates the release of lime into the water to neutralize acid mine drainage. The malfunction caused a release of the lime slurry which turned the water alkaline.
“It tries to keep the stream at a pH of 6 or 7,” Preston said. “The water quality gauge measured the pH at 11 and it may have been higher because the USGS gauge had a limit of 11.”
The stations were developed by researchers in West Virginia over the last three decades with great success using lime, limestone, and limestone sand in varying application techniques to combat man made or naturally occurring acid in the headwaters of West Virginia’s mountain streams. Preston said the agency is working to determine what went wrong with this particular station.
“It’s under investigation right now. Our staff is working with the contractor who developed the program software application to determine how that may have happened,” said Preston. “It has not been in operation much this summer because other treatment facilities in a tributary to the Blackwater River have been adequate to serve as a neutralizing factor.”
Preston said the problem came to their attention after dead fish were noticed in the water. The dosing station was immediately shutdown. The pH returned to normal levels.