MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia University scientists are getting more than $600,000 to study the health of watersheds in the southern coalfields and how they might be affected by mountaintop removal mining.Lead researcher Todd Petty says the work may lead to a more efficient permitting process. Environmental concerns need not hinder development in West Virginia, he says -- if there is evidence to show that strategic restoration projects can guarantee benefits to watersheds.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is providing $300,000 for research in the watersheds of the Gauley, Kanawha, Coal and Guyandotte rivers, as well as Twelvepole Creek and Tug Fork.The state Department of Environmental Protection is providing $330,000 for related work."Much of the current debate over mountaintop mining focuses on the impacts of mining to water resources,'' said Petty, an associate professor of fisheries and wildlife resources. "This debate neglects the fact that many of the watersheds are already in poor condition for a lot of reasons, such as historic mining, other development activities and untreated wastewater.''
Petty, who served last summer on the EPA's science advisory board, will collaborate with Michael Strager, an assistant professor of resource economics, and Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of WVU's Water Research Institute.The team will develop models that incorporate various kinds of development and land disturbance with a variety of mitigation systems, then project how waterways would likely respond.Petty said mitigation projects may include stream channel reconstruction, construction of stormwater management systems or improved municipal wastewater treatment.Last week, the EPA vetoed a critical water permit for Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine over environmental concerns, saying it would cause irreparable environmental damage.