Chapter 40

Water Quality

We think we live in a very polluted world. We certainly are told the world is very polluted. But at least in some ways, this part of the world where I live is better off than it was years ago. Erosion was rife a long time ago, before my time, before our family owned it. The hills of the Lost Creek farm were planted in corn with rows up and down hill, and the corn was kept clean – that is, there were no weeds. A hoe was used to keep the soil loose to prevent weeds from growing and competing with the corn. The erosion must have been enormous. The neighbors, in fact everyone who farmed, used the same practice.

Roads were rocked where necessary, mostly on hills, but where it was level enough, the traffic kept the road bare, and water crossed it , washing away the soil. Only in very heavily traveled areas were the roads tediously paved with bricks or paving blocks.

It was a common practice to build barns where the manure could be thrown in a run or creek, so the farmer would not have to carry it away and spread it on his fields. Not only was the stream polluted, but the fertility was lost. Dead animals were commonly disposed of in streams, as were many other kinds of debris. People got their water from springs or wells, so no thought was given to the contamination downstream

Oil wells were a tremendous source of pollution. Salt water was pumped out and just ran down the hillside. Oil was often lost from the well, from the wooden tanks where it was stored, and from the horse drawn vehicles which transported it in the early days. I remember well the oil soaked soil around wells and tanks. It formed a sort of cement, which was relatively soft. Few plants would grow on it, except moss. The colored sheen of a thin oil film on the creek was well known.

Most of this was gone by my teen years. Corn was no longer grown on hillsides, but the worn out soil remained. Roads were beginning to be paved and culverts were the rule in public roads. There were many side roads that had only a “rock base” and a few that had no rock. The fertility of manure was recognized, and disposal of other things in runs and creeks was still practiced but mostly on hillsides and out of sight. There were plenty of impromptu garbage heaps around until perhaps the seventies, when a law was introduced, and traditional dump sites were cleaned up.

Pollution due to coal wasn’t as much of a problem, except around mines and railroads. Railroads weren’t a significant source of soil erosion, but they were pretty indifferent to the effects of anything that was lost from the train in passing, including dumping raw sewage out of rest rooms onto the tracks. This continued after I was an adult. There were lots of coal spills along tracks.

When strip mining started after WWII, there was no regulation. Bulldozers just pushed the soil and rock aside and the coal was removed. There was no provision for water to run off, no refilling back into the area where the coal had been removed. Shortly laws were passed that “back filling” was required, but it took a long time before anything was done for water control. At first the law required the land be graded back to the “high wall,” the part of the hill not stripped, on a 2 percent grade.

Before the end of the stripping era, the law required a series of ponds be built around the entire outer edge of the stripped area, and water coming out of this had to run through a “rip rapped” area, a ditch lined with rocks large enough so that it would not wash. Dirt had to be put back to the “high wall” to restore the “original contour” as much as possible. The urban activists who thought this up apparently didn’t realize the importance of the rock layers in the hill. And they certainly didn’t understand the importance of the old “bench,” which provided much needed level land in this hilly area. There are numerous subdivisions built on old strip benches, and they provide a lot of level land for farming. The area stripped under the new regulations in Northcentral West Virginia is small compared to the area under the old regulations.

The greatest sediment deposits in our streams came as the result of stripping. It would be interesting to know, though, how the remains compare with the sediment washed out of those corn fields in previous generations, which would have stayed suspended better and have gone much further down stream.

One more item I should mention is the loss of the good bottom land that belonged to Clarence and Connie Woodford. Dad told me that before the tipple was opened at Righter they cut five stacks of hay off it each year. The tipple was used by Tasa behind Carlo Smith’s house. It got heavy use and a large stockpile was built up. Along came a flood (a regular event which should have been anticipated) and washed away 30,000 tons of coal. The sediment converted Woodford’s meadow into a coal-mud swamp which is now economically useless. They didn’t get a thing for it. It was before the era of suing for everything, and it probably wouldn’t have been well received in court, considering the strength of the coal industry. Doubtless there were many other such bottoms ruined. The company went broke, and the state eventually had to clean up the tipple site with public funds, but not the meadow land.

In the present era, shortly after 2000, the pollution concerns are primarily with industry, which is more common now, with logging trails, and farmyards near streams. The Soil Conservation Service claims high rates of sheet erosion, but independent work, published in the journal Science, questions the validity of their high claims. Regulating pollution by law is difficult, as the following story will illustrate.

When the Stonewall Dam was being considered, a second project, sponsored by the Soil Conservation Service, was proposed to provide water for Jane Lew. There was a dam to be built on the Jackson property where the Shavers now have their green house. Pittsburgh Tube was planning to move to the Industrial Park at Jane Lew. The land owners on Jesse Run opposed the dam down to the last individual.

Five of us, including Walter Neely, Jr., Robert “Bob” Nelson and I went to Monaca, Pennsylvania, to talk to Vice-President Hathaway of Pittsburgh Tube. He told us that Pittsburgh Tube wasn’t responsible for the water project. He also explained why they were moving to Jane Lew. To make their product, they had to remove the rust from the steel by washing it in sulfuric acid. They had been in the habit of neutralizing the excess sulfuric acid with sodium hydroxide, which gives sodium sulfate, a soluble product that went in solution into the Ohio River.

The law had been changed. To prevent the sodium, the sulfate and the iron from going into the Ohio River, Pittsburgh Tube was going to have to change to calcium hydroxide to neutralize the excess sulfuric acid. This gives an insoluble product, calcium sulfate. The material from the reaction would have to be piped into a pond where it would settle, the water allowed to evaporate, and the resulting mixture of calcium sulfate and iron sulfate shoveled up and trucked away and buried, at considerable expense, of course.

But the regulation didn’t apply in West Virginia, so if they moved to Jane Lew they could continue to use sodium hydroxide. He didn’t know he was talking to someone who had a background in chemistry, and I didn’t disabuse him. It was all so innocent.

I could see instantly what would happen. The effluent, carrying iron, sulfate, and sodium would flow by (and into) the intake to Jane Lew’s water plant, into the West Fork River, by the water intake to Clarksburg and a dozen other cities, going on down the Monongahela, to Pittsburgh, and right by the old plant at Monaca. There would have been less pollution if they had just been allowed to continue their old practice in the old place.

Hathaway kept emphasizing that the effluent would stay in the pond at Jane Lew for 28 days, just like that would take care of any problem with it. Ionic chemicals in solution react almost instantly when completely mixed, so the 28 days didn’t mean a thing. If bacterial decay had been involved, as with sewage, time would have been quite important. I think he really didn’t know. The people at the industrial park didn’t know. You can be sure someone in the company did know, however. And our state people surely knew.

But the law as written allowed them to come to Jane Lew. I was in CLANRO, Inc., at the time and was fighting the gas company, and I was fighting the Stonewall Jackson dam. Trying to rectify the situation with Pittsburgh Tube also would have been too, too much. I just let it go by. They have been a good employer, and a good company to have in the community. I don’t suppose the sodium sulfate and iron have hurt the water quality between Jane Lew and Monaca much.

Obviously there is no dam where Shaver’s house and green house are located today. We found out that a certain percent of the landowners above the dam had to be in favor of the project and sign papers. Everyone signed papers but said they DIDN’T want it. Later I heard the Soil Conservation Service Project Director for the dam moved to Mississippi. Maybe he found more tractable landowners there.

Aside The parents, my two sisters and I took a trip to Riverside, California, in 1949 to the Seventh Day Baptist (our church) General Conference. We returned through the Southwest along the famous Route 66, the connection between California and Chicago. When we arrived in Texas, we stopped to get gas and Dad remarked to the owner, “Sure is good to see green again.” To which the man replied, “It’s nice here, and there is some good land in California, but what’s between isn’t good for anything but to hold the two together!”

Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2008, 2011 S. Tom Bond (stombond at