These rivers are also making their third appearance on an
annual national list of endangered rivers.
The Coal is number nine and the Potomac
is number one in the American Rivers annual report.
The Coal is West Virginia’s
second longest river, stretching from Raleigh
County through Boone to Saint
Albans where it drains into the Kanawha
Katherine Baer, American Rivers clean water program director,
said the Coal is ranked ninth this year and has been listed twice before in
1999 and 2000.
“The Coal is on this year for the threat of mountaintop removal
mining,” Baer said, “And a lot of the victories we’ve seen in recent years of
trying to push back against this very destructive practice have been possible
because the Clean Water act is there to provide a backstop.”
“But now to really go further and build on those victories
we have to make sure the capillaries to the system, our small head water streams
are protected or else things are going to get much worse for the Coal and other
rivers like it,” she said.
A news release from American Rivers says the Coal
River basin is home to some of the
largest strip mines in Appalachia. The release says
permits are issued to mine about 20 percent of the river’s watershed, one-third
of the area has already been mined and more than 100 miles of head water streams
in the watershed have already been buried.
According to the EPA web site U.S. Supreme Court rulings
over the past decade have called into question whether the EPA and the Army
Corps of Engineers can regulate small streams and wetlands.
Baer said American Rivers is concerned that Congress will
pass laws preventing EPA from reinstating regulations on small streams that feed
into larger bodies of water like the Coal.
“Right now there are two bills one in the house and one in
the senate that both try to stop the environmental protection agency from
allowing the administration to finalize the guidance that has been in the works
for a long time,” Baer said. “And this guidance is a very well thought out
public document that would try to better protect our small streams.”
Like the Coal, the Potomac River
has appeared on the list twice before, in 1997 and 1998. Baer said the Potomac
is ranked first on this year’s most endangered list because of two major
“One is that Congress is trying to roll back the major
efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay,” Baer said. “These
are very comprehensive and longstanding efforts to put the Bay on a pollution
diet and there’s current legislation that would undo that progress.”
Baer said the Potomac is also
threatened by agriculture and urban runoff. The Potomac,
which begins in West Virginia and
flows about 380 miles to the Chesapeake Bay, is the
source of drinking water for more than five million people.
Baer sayid if Congress weakens efforts to clean up the Bay
it will adversely affect improvements made in water quality.
“Over the last 40 years certainly there’s been a decrease in
pollution from point sources like sewage treatment plants,” she said. “But then
at the same time we’ve had more development, there’s continued runoff from
agriculture within the basin, and for example we’ve been seeing more intersex
fish in the Potomac River.”
Baer said it’s not clear why that’s happening.
“But it’s certainly an indicator that we’re not where we
need to be in terms of clean water,” she said.
Baer pointed out both the Potomac and
Coal Rivers also provide recreational opportunities for people living in their