EPA finds exceptional biology in watershed

COLUMBUS – The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday afternoon biology was found to be exceptional to very good at several sites on select Ohio River tributaries including Island Creek, Croxton Run and Wills Creek and 10 other sites in Jefferson and Harrison counties.

According to a biological and water quality study conducted in 2010 by the OEPA, “excellent habitat conditions also were observed in these select tributaries.

“Very good biology and habitat conditions were observed in the Cross Creek main stream, and the biology was good at sites on most of the 17 tributaries located in the watershed,” cited OEPA spokesperson Erin Strouse.

But the OEPA study noted concerns regarding Cross Creek.

“All of the sites on the Cross Creek main stream and direct Ohio River tributaries were fully meeting the existing or recommended aquatic life use designation. Of the 31 sites where the biology was assessed, 24 sites were fully meeting the goals for fish and aquatic insects and mussels. Another six sites were partially attaining those goals. One site was not assessed. The six impaired streams were located in areas influenced by municipal wastewater discharges and drainage from historic or active coal mining activities. The OEPA is partnering with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to identify potential mining reclamation projects to further improve water quality in the Cross Creek watershed. Upgrades at the Wintersville and Jefferson County wastewater treatment plants also should improve water quality in Barbers Hollow,” explained Strouse.

Recreation use was assessed at nine sites in the watershed by sampling for E. coli bacteria. Five sites failed to meet the E. coli standard limits, indicating the recreation use was not supported in those locations. Sources of the impairment included agriculture and failing home sewage treatment systems, Strouse said.

“As part of the OEPA’s continuous effort to monitor and report on the quality of streams throughout Ohio, the OEPA employees collect chemical, physical and biological samples from dozens of sites in each study area. The OEPA analyzed information about the abundance and variety of fish and aquatic insects, especially those species sensitive to pollution, and the presence of bacteria, metals and nutrients. The agency has one of the most advanced water quality monitoring programs in the nation, determining the health of rivers and streams by sampling stream biology and habitat in addition to water chemistry,” Strouse stated.

“Our agency shares this information with local governments, landowners and citizens so they can develop plans to maintain and/or restore waterways impacted by identified sources of pollution,” added Strouse.

“The OEPA study reported the endangered hellbender salamander has been declining across the state of Ohio, but Cross Creek is one of two locations in the state of Ohio where juvenile eastern hellbender salamanders have been found. The habitat scores of Cross Creek indicated the potential to support exceptional warmwater habitat communities however, the headwaters were impacted by mine drainage and were only marginally meeting standards. Two landfills,Cross Ridge Landfill and C&D Disposal Technologies, and one industrial facility, Satralloy now owned by Cyprus Amax Minerals, are located on Cross Creek downstream from Barbers Hollow and Fernwood. The facilities have storm water discharges that negatively impact the fish and aquatic insect and mussel community. While the scores were meeting the standard, they showed a decline downstream from these facilities. Other potential impacts in lower Cross Creek include mine drainage from Dry Fork at Kolmont, Rocky’s Junkyard salvage yard in Mingo Junction located on slag in the flood plain of Cross Creek and slag pile runoff from a former Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel disposal area in Cool Springs, which is currently being mined and reprocessed by Phoenix Services,” stated the 53 page study. The study recommended signage should be posted at known swimming sites on Cross Creek just downstream from the former Sattraloy plant.

“This is a well know swimming location and could be a potential area of human health exposure to hexavalent chromium and total chromium. Signs should be posted at this location to warn citizens about the potential exposure. Remediation at the Satralloy facility is under way by the Cyprus Amax Minerals Company which is projected to take at least ten years to complete,” the study reads.

“It is recommended that further studies be conducted on Cross Creek to determine if remedial efforts at Satralloy and better storm water controls and proper treatment of the leachate from the landfills result in improved biological performance,” according to the report.

The report also said five sites in the Cross Creek watershed were impacted by sanitary waste from failing home sewage treatment systems or poor agricultural activities such as cattle with free access to the creek.