Case Study

Case Study Image

The Glennwhite Watershed (Horseshoe Curve) is one of the Altoona Water Authority’s largest watersheds (3,500 acres or 12.8 sq. miles).  Nearly 40% of Altoona’s water supply originates from the Glennwhite watershed.

Unfortunately, it also is the most severely polluted.  Acid mine drainage from past coal mining activities approximately 100 years ago has degraded 3.8 miles of waterway.  This section of Glennwhite is listed on the state of Pennsylvania “List of Impaired Waters” with the source of the impairment being abandoned mine drainage with the cause of impairment listed as metals.

Water draining from these watersheds from the late 1800s until 1999 had very poor quality.  The water was metal laden with a very low pH and often highly turbid (muddy) rendering the stream and the impoundments (reservoirs) incapable of sustaining any aquatic life.  The waterways were dead.

In late July 1973, the Horseshoe Curve Water Treatment Plant was constructed to serve two purposes.  One was to provide treated drinking water from Glennwhite Run to the city of Altoona and surrounding areas.  The other purpose was to actively treat Acid Mine Drainage and then discharge it back into the stream.  The Horseshoe Curve plant attempted to do this for nearly 2 years until the idea was abandoned.  Mechanical failures, transmission line corrosion and breakage, and excessive sludge generation halted the attempt to actively treat the mine drainage.  Glennwhite went untreated from 1975 to 1999, nearly 25 years.

Then the Horseshoe Curve Resources Coalition was founded in late 1995.  The Blair County Conservation District called a meeting in September of that year to discuss the potential restoration of the Glenwhite and Kittanning Run Watersheds.  Twenty-three individuals were present that day representing Local, State, and Federal governments, local landowners, and local environmental and historical organizations.

The group’s first major accomplishment was receiving the whole-hearted support of the Blair County Commissioners by signing the PL-566 Project Application for the assessment of the Glenwhite Run Watershed, which occurred in early 1996.  The final watershed plan and environmental assessment was completed in July of 1997.  The group continued to meet regularly through 1997 and from these meetings the groundwork was laid to begin restoration within not only Glenwhite Run but to include any of the four Blair County Watersheds impacted by abandoned mine drainage.

From this endeavor, the first Abandoned Mine Drainage abatement project completed in Blair County was in the Shaw Run Watershed, located west of Bellwood.  This project, which consisted of extensive surface revegetation and a rock lined channel, was completed in the summer of 1999.  Construction in Glenwhite began in mid 1999 with work being performed using USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service PL-566 and Section 319 funds on the South Tributary Site.  Work then progressed by virtue of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR) Staff and Funding (10% Set Aside) in 2000 on the Squatter Falls Site.  In the meantime, PL-566 and Growing Greener Funds were utilized to complete the Barrens Project in 2000.  Progression through BAMR with funding from the Appalachian Clean Streams Initiative and Growing Greener continued on Coke Ovens, Clearwater and Spaghetti Hole sites being completed late 2001.  The final project, North Slope commenced in 2001, with a new funding source.  This time Growing Greener was matched with a portion of the Penalty Assessment levied against Conrail through the Attorney Generals Office.  North Slope was completed in summer of 2002.

Upon completion of the eight abandoned mine drainage sites found in the Glennwhite watershed, the water began to change and change a lot.  Once, the waterways supported no aquatic life, now macroinvertebrate studies have confirmed the beginning of a comeback in the stream.  Mayflies, caddis fly, crayfish and other aquatic life have been found.  Glennwhite’s pH levels have increased to the point of a natural mountain stream level (pH 6.0-7.0).  Metal contamination has decreased to nearly undetectable levels.  All of these changes in water quality not only have benefited the natural wildlife in Glennwhite Run but also the customers of the AWA.  The cleaner water is often easier and less expensive to treat.  The AWA expects less sludge generation, reduced sludge disposal costs, lower chemical use, and lower operating costs from Glennwhite Run source water.  For nearly 3 years Glennwhite Run has provided a clean and safe source of drinking water.

Here is a glance of August Water Quality found in the Horseshoe Curve (HSC) Reservoirs before and after 1999.

HSC Water Quality
Before 1999
HSC Water Quality
After 1999
Aug. pH   < 4.0 s.u. Aug. pH             > 7.0 s.u.
Iron (Fe)             5.0 mg/L Iron (Fe)             < 0.5 mg/L
Manganese (Mn) 9.0 mg/L Manganese (Mn) < 0.5 mg/L
Aluminum (Al)     6.0 mg/L Aluminum (Al)     < 0.5 mg/L

Glennwhite is proof that intergovernmental cooperation coupled with new ideas (passive treatment) can change a watershed.  It has changed Glennwhite.