Hundreds of fish in Pine Creek died after water containing a high level of iron was discharged from a retention pond located on the property of an active deep mine, said a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
State inspectors initially checked the site over the weekend, but didn’t find evidence of damage to aquatic life, said John A. Mura, communications director of the Energy and Environment Cabinet. However, officials with the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources tested three areas of the creek near Mayking and found the discharge of the iron water did cause the deaths of hundreds of fish, Mura said Tuesday evening.
The Department for Environmental Protection Environmental Response Team (ERT) from Pikeville arrived to the site Saturday morning after a citizen reported reddishcolored water in Pine Creek, the headwaters of which begin on Pine Mountain. Mining activity at Hard Shell Tipples caused a water surge that overflowed the retention pond, allowing the iron-rich water to enter the creek, said Mura.
The mine owner received three citations for violations of water quality, effluent limitation and general hydrological requirements from inspectors with Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement.
Mura said the mine operator is treating the discharge by putting soda ash into the retention pond.
Inspectors from the Department of Natural Resources met with the mine operator Tuesday, evaluated the site and conditions and instructed further remedial measures be taken if needed, Mura said. Water samples will be taken every morning, upstream from the public water intake, until they indicate that iron and pH are in compliance, Mura said.
A notice of violation from the Department of Environmental Protection is pending, Mura said, and the case will be referred to the department’s Division of Enforcement for further action.
Letcher County and Whitesburg water employees also monitored the water. Chris Caudill, who works at the Whitesburg water plant, posted a video on Facebook March 20 saying that he had been assured by the Kentucky Division of Water in Hazard that “everything is okay. The iron discharge happened above the Whitesburg water plant intake.
“We are on top of it,” Caudill said in a video clip posted on his Facebook page. “We are testing the water and it is all good so far.”