WILCOX – The Department of Environmental Protection has successfully refurbished a key acid mine drainage treatment facility that will maintain the fish population of a popular Elk County lake and two area rivers.
It is estimated that the bodies of water contribute up to $4 million annually to the state’s tourism industry.
“The Swamp Creek acid mine drainage treatment facility has allowed thousands of Pennsylvanians to enjoy fishing on East Branch Lake for nearly 40 years,” said J. Scott Roberts, DEP’s deputy secretary for mineral resources. “Without this facility, the lake couldn’t be the important part of north central Pennsylvania’s outdoor tourism industry that it is today. Now that we’ve successfully replaced the aging and outdated equipment at the facility, this lake will remain viable and attract visitors for many years to come.”
The $133,000 project replaced aging and malfunctioning parts, many of which were no longer available from manufacturers. A new computerized feed system replaced the outdated equipment to facilitate the treatment process whereby lime is delivered from a silo to Swamp Creek as needed to neutralize acid mine drainage. The facility uses about 100 tons of hydrated lime per year.
An automatic alarm was also added to immediately notify plant operators of any problems.
Financing for the project came from the Scarlift Fund, a 1960s state bond issue administered by DEP.
“The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is pleased to be a partner with DEP in maintaining this important fishing area as a recreational spot for Pennsylvanians and as an important cog in the tourism industry in this part of the state,” said William J. Sabatose, president of the commission, who was on hand at the treatment facility today to mark completion of restoration work. “Water quality in these two rivers is greatly improved by the Swamp Creek treatment facility,” said Sabatose. “In all, 52 miles of stream have been positively impacted by this project.
“The commission stocks tiger musky and lake trout here, which, together with native walleye and smallmouth bass, offer anglers a variety of opportunities that would not be possible without the acid mine drainage treatment facility on Swamp Creek,” said Sabatose.
The commonwealth has operated the hydrated lime treatment facility on Swamp Creek since it funded its construction in 1969. Operation and maintenance of the facility costs about $20,000 a year, which is supported through DEP’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation using Abandoned Mine Lands money Pennsylvania receives from the federal government. Up to 30 percent of this money can be used for acid mine drainage treatment.
Within months of going online, the treatment process raised the pH level in East Branch Lake from between 4 and 5 to above 6, making is possible for the lake to support a variety of fish species.
“Without this treatment, the East Branch Lake fishery simply would not exist,” said Roberts. “This project restores and protects our environment, enhances enjoyment of our state’s outdoors, and creates jobs by promoting the tourism industry.”