One of the things I love so much about where I live is my creek. It’s called Scrabble Creek. It is an impaired creek and it runs through my front yard like a little moat around my own private castle. I often laugh at how possessive of it I must sound.
It’s my creek. Not any of my neighbor’s creek, not a tributary to the Gauley River, not an industry compromised stream turned flood plane; it’s my creek.
One June morning last year, I put on my gardening clothes, grabbed a cup of coffee, and headed out for my morning stoop sit. I watched a few dragonflies, took in the quiet babble, and looked for the water snake who had decided to take up residence. His private luxury resort, it seemed.
As I checked his usual sunbathing spots, I noticed something strange. My creek looked weird. There was a silvery, gray sediment resting in the very bottom of the deepest crevices. Crevices that, by then, I knew like I know every age line on my face.
The knowledge I had about the history of my creek and the recent blasting activity, caused instant panic. I ran inside doing some babbling of my own. My husband, a former water tester, managed to calm me down and convince me that the water was still clear and that I should give it a few days. After all, we have seen some bizarre things, from hotdogs to telephone poles, floating down my creek. Maybe someone had dumped their barbeque ashes.
Usually, my creek’s white noise puts me to sleep at night. For a few nights and for the following weeks, it kept me awake. Each day brought a newer and murkier shade of gray. Each night I looked up possible causes and their individual effects on humans. My neighbor’s well-meaning “don’t worry, they’re just doing something at the mines” did nothing to soothe me. I visited my doctor for anxiety.
Sheer terror. Mad as hell!
Finally, I could take it no more. Even though I didn’t want to know, I knew for the safety of my family, I had to know. I looked up every environmental organization’s number I could think of and then I looked for more. I contacted every one from Nick Rahall’s office to the Sierra Club. Eventually, a very knowledgeable man named Andrew with the Southern Appalachian Labor School (SALS) called me and pointed me in the right direction.
Much to my surprise, my creek was investigated by the WVDEP. I also was put in touch with the Division of Mining and Reclamation. True to the notice they posted in my mailbox a year and a half before, they were shutting down an old mine. The gray in my creek was a result of rock particles and residues they use, for lack of a better way of putting it, to apply artificial turf to a mountain during their reclamation process.
Though they have sent documentation and they have sent water testing results, I am not beyond skepticism. I no longer water my plants with water from my creek. I have been made all too aware of what could potentially run from an old mine and into my creek. I’ve seen it myself and the stories of others are in no short supply. I’ve studied and I’ve read more than I can stomach. My dreams of watching my son building rock caves for crawdaddies like I used to do as a child are gone.
My creek runs clear now, but it is sad to think that I’m a lucky one. I’m lucky? Yes, in West Virginia, I am lucky. People answered my questions and the answers, for once, were on the situationally positive side. For now, it is over for my creek. Maybe, if they don’t open another mine close by, she’ll recover and be what she used to be in a few hundred years.
I have spent 32 days of the past four years without power and five days without water. My creek runs into the river that feeds our local water processing plant. As outsiders, a bookworm and a former water tester, we have never trusted the water here. Our local waters, are comprised of countless impaired and contaminated streams. Those streams flow past our processing plant, further down the Kanawha River, through coal processing plants at Alloy and Quincy, past Marmet and Belle’s chemical facilities, and right into Charleston.
Even with my experiences, I cannot begin to imagine what my neighbors in Charleston are going through right now. I will not take away the dignity with which they are presenting themselves, enduring, to begin to try to relate to their, dismissively called, water situation. It is not a situation, it is a nightmare.
I just want them to know that another part of the state hears them. I cannot speak for everyone in my area, but I am also angry, fed up, and ready for a change. You should never have to look at your water, coming out of the tap or flowing through your front yard, and be afraid for your child.
If there is any hope, any, amongst this coal and chemical insanity, I hope we can all stand together and speak in solidarity for our own individual creeks and water sources. As we say here in West Virginia, “We all live downstream.”