In October, the Alabama Surface Mining Commission denied the group’s petition to designate the area as unsuitable for coal mining. The Mulberry Fork provides drinking water for 200,000 residents in the greater Birmingham area.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper and the Birmingham Water Works Board appealed the decision in separate filings in November, according to a press release.
“We have appealed the ASMC’s ruling because they misinterpreted the available data which demonstrates the clear relationship between surface mining and the degradation of downstream water quality,” said John Kinney, enforcement coordinator for Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
According to an ASMC press release that accompanied the petition denial, data from mined and un-mined subwatersheds were evaluated to determine if coal mining operations are causing federal and state primary drinking water standards to be exceeded.
Aluminum and manganese, which are secondary standards, were found throughout the Mulberry Fork watershed in excessive levels, and concentrations were somewhat higher in mined areas.
Sulfate was the only contaminant that exceeded a primary drinking water standard established by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and once considered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The ASMC determined that “the total daily volume of sulfate discharged would have to exceed any yet observed value an extremely large amount to raise the concentration in the river above either standard.”
The same conclusion was drawn for aluminum and manganese.
The ASMC also asserted that the elevated concentrations of the three pollutants do not pose a significant health threat.