Dunkard Creek





Dunkard Creek, a 43-mile-long stream that flows through both West Virginia and Pennsylvania, was contaminated by energy industry wastewater in 2009. The contamination led to a toxic bloom of golden algae, which killed all creatures with gills in the waterway. Learn more about Dunkard Creek and its residents with our one-minute trailer, or a longer video with interviews of local residents

For those who want to dive in deeper, this article released by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette soon after the fish kill is a good place to start: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09263/999458-113.stm

The Response: 

“Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek” 

The Mountain Institute's Appalachian program sponsored an exhibit in which a community of artists with ties to the watershed memorialized the many species that died in the creek as a result of the contamination. Ninety artists represented ninety species in a variety of media. The exhibit traveled throughout the Appalachian region from 2011 through 2013.  Find out more on the exhibit's home page, here.
For many artists, learning about the species they were assigned to render was half the fun. There’s the salamander mussel, which projects its larvae into the gills of a mudpuppy host, where they grow for a matter of weeks dropping off as young mussels to grow in a stream bed. There’s the flathead catfish, a voracious feeder depicted in a small frame by the artist as a vacuum cleaner for the stream bottom.  Shiners, darters, minnows, salamanders, and insect populated the walls of the gallery.
The art show raised questions about how water is managed, and who benefits from the way resources are currently managed. It invited the general public to consider the fallout that sometimes occurs when our society’s quest for energy damages our natural resources.

“I felt as though as an artist, I wasn’t able to participate in the conversation about what went wrong in Dunkard Creek,” said Ann Payne, organizer of the exhibit. “I’m not a scientist, and I’m not a politician, and I’m not an energy company representative. But I am a resident who cares deeply about how we as a society treat the natural world.”

As it turns out, there are many like Ms. Payne.

“We were thrilled that 90 artists responded so quickly to Ann's invitation,” said Brent Bailey, Director of the Appalachian Program of The Mountain Institute, the non-profit organization that sponsors the exhibit.  “This exhibit brings artists into a discussion about the environment, and its title, “Reflections,” invites many people to consider their impact on the environment. It’s a chance to appreciate what was lost, and to reflect on what could be different.”

The fish kill in 2009 occurred because contamination of Dunkard Creek by coal mine wastewater created ideal conditions for a bloom of golden algae – a non-native species of marine algae that thrives in salty water. The salinity of the creek exceeded that of ocean water. A coal company has paid a fine for damages, and is now building a water treatment plant on the West Virginia side of the stream. A lawsuit against the company for damages to the Pennsylvania side of the creek is now in the courts.

A video accompanies the exhibit, presenting the voices and faces of human residents of the area surrounding Dunkard Creek.  A catalog is available for sale, which contains images of all the art work in the show, biographical information about each species, a brief history of Dunkard Valley, and a map of the water’s path through northern West Virginian and southern Pennsylvania. “We wanted the exhibit to be a great art show, but we also wanted to create an educational piece that people can take home,” said Bailey.

Payne’s design for the exhibit was deliberately low-tech and low-price. “This could be replicated by almost anyone in any small community,” she said. Art paper adhered to 7”X10” panels defined the medium, and were provided to each artist who applied to have a species assignment. The finished works fit into a car for easy transport.

The Dunkard Creek Traveling Exhibit retired in 2013, but for more information about the exhibit, its schedule, and images in the show, click here.

News about the Exhibit 

October 12, 2011, New York Times: In Fish-Kill Mystery, EPA Scientist Points at Shale Drilling

Consol Energy has agreed to pay more than $205 million in federal fines and pollution control costs associated with an algae bloom that killed thousands of fish and other aquatic life in Dunkard Creek.

June 10, 2011, WV Public Broadcasting: DNR prepares strategy to help restore Dunkard Creek 



TMI sponsorship of "Reflections" was made possible with generous support from the Wallace Genetic Foundation.