CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One hundred fifty middle school fifth-grade children had fun and learned about water at the Coal River Water Festival. They took part in the Project WET curriculum at the Coal River Group's Science and Education Center (May 29, The Charleston Gazette's Kanawha Valley Neighbors section).
Project WET was apparently sponsored by Nestlé to save face due to criticisms about its bottled water operations that wreak havoc on the environment.
One example of that environmental havoc was revealed in a 2007 report disclosing that Nestlé Water International removes 224 million gallons of ground water from Lake Michigan's hydrologic system and transports it out of the basin. The report concludes that "The Great Lakes ecosystem has and will continue to suffer irreparable damage."
Project WET joins numerous other industry-created or sponsored "environmental education" programs aimed at schoolchildren and teachers. Two such programs I am familiar with are the timber industry's Project Learning Tree and the coal company's CEDAR, both of which contain industry propaganda.
John Walls and his family ran the Coal River Canoe Livery for nearly a decade. It was the kind of tourist business that the Coal River Group, hosts to Project WET, says could flourish along Coal River.
But in September 2001, Coal River Canoe Livery went out of business. In a lawsuit, Walls claimed that black water and sludge spills from a Massey Coal operation, "turned the river black with coal dust, and negated all of the efforts made to clean up the river." Walls said that once the damage occurs, "you can't go down there with a vacuum cleaner and suck it out. I mean, it's like four to six inches of muck that covers anywhere the water has been after a spill... And once it goes back down, it leaves the muck behind, plus the bottom's coated. And even after a high water or a flood, it still won't flush...It will get off the banks, but the bottom still stays full."
As a boy, Walls swam in waterholes that have since been filled in with silt from mountaintop removal strip mining, leaving a gelatinous muck on the bottom.
Fulfilling a Freedom of Information Act request, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection lists Big Coal River as impaired from the mouth to mile 14.8. DEP listed six tributaries of Coal River, downstream from mountain top removal, with selenium readings considered dangerous to stream wildlife. Selenium is known to cause birth defects in fish such as both eyes on one side of the head and curved spines.
American Rivers listed Coal River in the top 10 most endangered rivers in 1999 and again in 2012.
Coal River Mountain Watch did water testing on some tributaries of Big Coal River that are downstream from mountaintop removal strip mining. Those tests showed conductivity readings ranging from 1,114 to 1,550. Readings above 300 are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be hostile to healthy stream wildlife. Two of those streams with high conductivity are near the Nellis Middle School, one of the schools that participated in the Coal River Water Festival.
Along with the Water Festival's several exciting and fun-filled educational activities, I hope the children and teachers were alerted to the reputation of Nestlé. I also hope they were made aware of Coal River's degradation caused by mountaintop removal strip mining.
Martin, of Charleston, is a retired teacher.