Climate change and strip-mined mountains equals flooding.
VARNEY, West Virginia — Pigeon Creek flows through a narrow mountain hollow along a string of coal mining communities, its water trickling under the red and yellow of the changing fall foliage.
The tranquil scene belies the devastation the creek delivered one night a decade ago as heavy rain fell on soggy soil and thousands of acres of nearby strip mines. Witnesses spoke of awakening in the dark of May 9, 2009, to the sound of rushing water like they had never heard before, entering their homes from underneath their doors.
“It was coming down out of the mountains bringing rock, trees, water and mud,” recalled Mildred Elkins, who became the lead plaintiff in a successful lawsuit with dozens of her flooded neighbors against several defendants, including Alpha Natural Resources, a coal mining company which has since gone through bankruptcy and merged with Contura Energy.
At one point, as she went to the basement to rescue some valuables, a back door gave way to pressure from the floodwater.
“I heard a big old boom. That door had busted down and water was coming through in full force,” she said. With water nearly up to her neck, she said she grabbed the steps and pulled herself up. “I could feel my feet floating out behind me. It was scary.”
With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers forecasting more rain and significantly increased streamflows due to climate change in a region that includes the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, this kind of life-and-death drama on landscapes heavily strip-mined for coal could happen more frequently in the coming years. Heavier rainfall could also mean more polluted water washing from coal mines, environmental experts say, damaging streams and aquatic life already marred by mining.
A new analysis of satellite imagery conducted for InsideClimate News by two Duke University scientists shows how the risks related to strip mining and climate change are spread broadly across the region. It found that a total of 1,400 square miles of Appalachia within the Ohio River basin has been scarred by strip mining, with the tops and sides of mountains blasted away and steep mountain valleys filled with so-called “waste rock.”
The area with the largest extent of strip-mining damage in the entire Ohio River basin — almost 500 square miles in the Big Sandy watershed, including Pigeon Creek — is also the most threatened by extreme weather related to climate change, according to the new analysis.
Straddling the state line between West Virginia and Kentucky, the Big Sandy watershed could see up to a 25% increase in streamflow by 2040 and 35% by the end of the century from climate change alone, according to the Army Corps, making hazardous flooding conditions even worse.
Read more – Source: Climate Change In Kentucky: ‘One Home Came Floating Down The River’ – LEO Weekly