BARTON - Acid mine drainage pollution in the lower four miles of Georges Creek remains essentially unchanged since a seep from the abandoned McDonald Mine killed all aquatic life there almost a year ago, according to a spokesman for the Maryland Bureau of Mines.

"We see some differences in the quality of the water when stream volumes are up or down, but it is still the worst water in the state," said Joe Mills.

Today, John Dietz, a consultant from Clarion, Pa., will visit the site. "We're hoping he can come up with a plan of attack, and if that happens, then we'll start looking for ways to pay for it," Mills said. "Dietz is active in mining and sewer projects. He is a good bad-water guy." The agency is paying Dietz $8,872 to look at this site and others.

During lean flows in Georges Creek, the pH has read as low as 3.9. Higher water volumes have brought the pH up to 7.4. A reading between 6.5 and 8.5 is considered to be good.

Mills said that the coal mine seep is being treated with lime to neutralize the acid, but the 100 yards between it and the stream does not allow enough time for the chemical to do its job.

"We're all concerned with any impacts the acid drainage could have on the (North Branch of the) Potomac," Mills said. "We know there is discoloration in the larger river. We hear from the rafters who don't like to see that."

Should additional impacts, such as fish kills, begin to show in the river, Mills said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be asked to release additional water from Jennings Randolph Reservoir.

"In some cases the solution to pollution is dilution," he said.

Westernport Mayor Tom Smith said Wednesday that he is concerned about the rotten water that is flowing through the middle of his town. "And the citizens are concerned too. I hear from them about it. But we all understand that there will probably be no quick solution."

Smith said he wonders if the damaged portion of the stream should be dredged so that eventually it may recover more rapidly from the toxic materials that have settled out.

"Maybe we ought to dam Georges Creek to fix it," Smith said. "We've spent money in dumber ways than that. You know that was a 16 (years old)-and-under trout stream that got destroyed. If they cleaned it up tomorrow, how long would it take for that to recover?"

"We know people are frustrated," Mills said. "They got used to watching their kids fish for trout in Georges Creek and now all they see is orange water. But nobody is more frustrated than me and the bureau. We've spent our careers trying to clean up these kinds of things.

"There is probably no silver bullet to take care of this situation, but we are optimistic that we will eventually get a handle on it."

Mills said he wouldn't be surprised to see a surge of acid drainage come from the McDonald Mine following recent heavy rains.

With abandoned mines, there is no responsible party who can be held financially liable for pollution, Bureau of Mines spokeswoman Connie Lyons told the Times-News earlier this year. There are hundreds of abandoned mines in Maryland.

The aquatic damage from the McDonald Mine was first noticed Aug. 23 when an unknown subsurface action caused the seep to worsen.

Michael A. Sawyers can be reached at msawyers@times-news.com.

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