Feature - Project Dedicated that Raises Rainbow Trout in Treated Mine Drainage
Top - Before, Bottom - After Treatment

Over 225 members and partners of the Toby Creek Watershed Association formally dedicated the completed Blue Valley Mine Drainage Treatment and Fish Culture Station last weekend in Brandy Camp, Elk County.

And as if to endorse the project, the gray winter skies were broken by a bright beam of sunlight just as the local Monsignor finished his blessing.

The Blue Valley facility treats mine water from one of the last mine discharges in the Toby Creek Watershed. The water is then used to raise over 6,000 rainbow trout that fishing clubs and the Fish and Boat Commission distribute to local streams.

Members of the Association started work on cleaning up mine discharges in the watershed 39 years ago and the Blue Valley facility itself took four years to design, fund and build.

There were over 100 mine discharges in the Toby Creek Watershed at one time, but steady work by the Association, the Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Office of Surface Mining tackled each one to the point where almost all are controlled.

Rep. Sam Smith (R-Jefferson) praised the efforts of the Association for their persistence, noting that his father, who represented the area before him, also worked with the Association to cleanup the watershed.

The iron oxide filled Blue Valley discharge flows at about 500 gallons a minute. The facility, running at about half capacity now, runs the mine water through a clarifier that uses mechanical aeration to help separate the iron oxide from the water.

After additional treatment, the water is circulate through two large tanks with 3,000 fish each. After the water goes through the tanks, it is sent to a pond and then a wetland to finish treatment before being discharged back into Toby Creek.

The facility has been running since October and so far the results are outstanding, raising rainbow trout fingerlings to 10 or 11 inches long in just five months.

“We only lost 23 fish out of 6,000 since October,” said Bill Sabatose, Toby Creek Watershed Association and a member of the Board of the Fish and Boat Commission. “And the fish have been growing much faster than in regular fish hatcheries. That means we can raise more fish in less time.”

The iron oxide taken out of the mine water is dried and the Association is exploring its potential uses as a pigment in paint or ceramics, like other groups have done. They are also looking at the possibility for its use by the local powdered metals industry to make metal parts.

The goal of the Blue Valley facility is to demonstrate that technology used there can be reliably treat mine water and raise fish which the Association and the Fish and Boat Commission hope can be duplicated elsewhere in the state.

The Commission raises about 3.8 million fish for stocking each year, but most of its present fish hatcheries are located on small, high quality or exceptional value streams, which can be significantly impacted by discharges from the hatcheries.

The Blue Valley facility is not the only place where treated mine water is used to raise fish.

Another example is the Warwick Mountain Fisheries in Greene County. There Duquesne Light has a facility that raises 10,000 rainbow trout in treat mine water, but the technology used in much different. Sales of the fish help offset about 25 to 30 percent of the operating cost of the treatment facility.

Funding partners in the Blue Valley project include the Department of Environmental Protection, federal Office of Surface Mining, Stackpole Foundation and the Fish and Boat Commission along with support from Rep. Sam Smith, Rep. Dan Surra and Sen. Joe Scaranti.

The only disappointment of the day was that they weren’t letting anyone catch fish!

For more information on the Blue Valley facility, contact Bill Sabatose, Toby Creek Watershed Association, 814-265-8749 or send email to: analyser@penn.com.

Special Photo Feature: Dedicating the Blue Valley Facility – PDF

Links: Stocking Little Toby Creek

New Mine Drainage Cleanup Plant Opens

Brandy Camp Treatment Plant Activated

GreenWorks Gazette – Toby Creek Cleanup


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