Members of the Piney Creek Watershed Association (PCWA) say inadequate water treatment is a significant source of contamination in Raleigh County’s creeks, streams and rivers.
Jim Fedders, associate director of PCWA, said the cause of this contamination, which comes in the form of fecal coliform bacteria, is failing septic systems and straight pipes, which discharge sewage directly from homes into nearby creeks.
Although this issue has been known for some time, Fedders said the fix is timely and costly.
“If these problems were easy to solve, they’d be resolved by now,” he said.
Fedders said the PCWA is beginning to look at fixing the problems, one household at a time, with the help of local and state dollars.
On Tuesday, the Raleigh County Commission approved a $32,000 grant for the PCWA for its Wastewater Improvement Project in the Upper Piney Creek Watershed.
These county funds will serve as a match to a $52,250 grant the PCWA received from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
PCWA also received a $7,000 grant from the Beckley Area Foundation.
Fedders said the funds would be used to perform maintenance checks on septic tanks within a portion of the Piney Creek Watershed.
The funds will also be used to repair, pump and replace septic tanks, as well as install septic tanks in homes that don’t have them.
The areas the PCWA will focus on with these funds are Pemberton, Sullivan, Abney, Whitby, Jonben and Fireco.
Fedders said the impact of this work will extend far beyond the boundaries of Raleigh County.
“The water that flows out of these homes, it goes into Piney Creek, and eventually that water goes into the New River, and that’s right in the middle of our brand new national park,” he said. “… There’s a huge economic incentive to keep the river clean because we have so many people recreating down there.”
Fedders said this will likely be the first of many phases to assist homes in this area.
He added that the PCWA has already applied and was recently awarded a second grant from the state for the same amount.
“There are so many problems; we just finally got to the point where we’re able to really try to do something about this contamination of that part of the stream,” Fedders said.
To notify homeowners of this project and assess interest, the PCWA sent out mailers in August and is scheduled to send out a second round of mailers in September.
Thus far, the PCWA has received 12 inquiries from homeowners interested in the project.
The PCWA also has plans to begin individual homeowner consultation by the end of the year.
The towns of Beckley, Crab Orchard, Sophia, Mabscott and portions of Coal City are within the Piney Creek Watershed boundary, as well as Little Beaver State Park and a small portion of the New River Gorge National River.