Gauley River: Endangered by Mountaintop Removal


I used to work for the national organization American Rivers and have been involved in the release of the group's widely-anticipated annual list of America's Most Endangered Rivers.  Each year, American Rivers reviews nominations for "most endangered" and issues a report that -- for the past 25 years -- has served as a powerful tool for saving these important rivers.  West Virginia's famed Gauley River ranks #3 on this year's list -- the threat is mountaintop removal coal mining, which could spell the end to the clean water, fish and wildlife and the river's world-famous recreation.

(Photo by The Facey Family)

The Gauley River is internationally famous for its whitewater, contributing approximately $16 million in annual revenue to West Virginia from commercial rafting.  The river also supports trout and bass, but is scarred by coal mining impacts and subjected to degradation from ongoing mining activity.  The process of mountaintop removal mining flattens mountaintops, buries streams under debris, and pollutes water.  

In the Gauley River watershed, some of the greatest devastation by mountaintop removal mining occurs in the Twentymile and Peters Creek watersheds.  Additional permitted activity in this area could harm the National Recreation Area and the health of the Kanawha River, which delivers clean water to Charleston and Huntington and supports industry. 

"The principles of the Clean Water Act must be upheld by federal agencies and Congress to assure the integrity of these headwater streams and valleys is maintained,"said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.  "Unless the EPA and Army Corps act now to end the devastating practice of mountaintop removal mining, the Gauley River and its communities will suffer irreparable damage."

American Rivers and its local partners working to protect the Gauley River want the Environmental Protection Agency to issue critical new water quality safeguards and to ultimately prohibit further destruction of Appalachian rivers from mountaintop removal mining.

"The Army Corps of Engineers must start to follow the science showing the devastating impacts throughout central Appalachia and put an end to mountaintop removal. Business as usual is destroying of one of the most biologically diverse and culturally rich areas in the world," said Margaret Janes, Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment

"Headwater streams that feed the lower reaches of the Gauley are no less healthy and thriving and worthy of protection than those that rise further upstream in our beloved Monongahela National Forest," said Cindy Rank with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.  "If we continue to emaciate streams like Twenty Mile, Peters Creek and Muddelty the whole Gauley basin is in peril".

"We can act now to protect the Gauley by stopping mountaintop removal," said Vivian Stockman, with the Huntington, W.Va.-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.  "Not only will ending mountaintop removal protect the revenue generated by recreation and tourism around the Gauley, we will protect human health, too.  Studies show that mountaintop removal mining is polluting streams to the point that people's health is compromised."

Read about the threat facing the Gauley -- and other precious waterways -- in the 2010 America's Most Endangered Rivers report and take action to help protect them.