Lone Mountain NRDAR Endangered Fish Restoration

Background information.— The Lone Mountain slurry spill injured two endangered fish species in the Powell River—the yellowfin madtom ( Noturus flavipinnis) and the slender chub ( Erimystax cahni). The yellowfin madtom was historically widespread throughout the Upper Tennessee River drainage but was presumed extinct at the time of its formal scientific description. The discovery of three surviving but geographically isolated populations in the late 1970s and early 1980s resulted in its listing as a threatened species. The slender chub was also once relatively common in the Powell River but is now listed as one of the most narrowly distributed minnows in North America. Both the yellowfin madtom and the slender chub are sensitive to chemical ... Show More

Background information.— The Lone Mountain slurry spill injured two endangered fish species in the Powell River—the yellowfin madtom ( Noturus flavipinnis) and the slender chub ( Erimystax cahni). The yellowfin madtom was historically widespread throughout the Upper Tennessee River drainage but was presumed extinct at the time of its formal scientific description. The discovery of three surviving but geographically isolated populations in the late 1970s and early 1980s resulted in its listing as a threatened species. The slender chub was also once relatively common in the Powell River but is now listed as one of the most narrowly distributed minnows in North America. Both the yellowfin madtom and the slender chub are sensitive to chemical pollution and sedimentation, and sediment and contaminants from the Lone Mountain spill contributed to the degradation of habitat for these endangered fish species (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003).

Conservation Fisheries, Inc., (CFI), a Tennessee nonprofit organization that specializes in the conservation and captive propagation of rare freshwater fish, has been propagating yellowfin madtoms to try to reestablish populations lost in the spill. The organization collects wild madtom nests from the stream, rears the fish in their hatchery, and then releases the reared fish back into the wild. Experience from other yellowfin madtom restoration efforts suggests that it may take more than 15 years to restore populations (Patrick Rakes, CFI, written commun., 2015). Madtoms invest their energy in producing relatively few young, of which they take better care than other fish species, resulting in only a few hundred juveniles produced for release each year (Patrick Rakes, CFI, written commun., 2015). It is difficult to make any definitive statements about the success of the Powell River yellowfin madtom restoration because of the biology of the species and the nature of the river. Yellowfin madtoms are cryptic, so they are difficult to find even when they are doing well and they are especially difficult to find when they are just getting reestablished. Despite this challenge, CFI remains hopeful and is encouraged that the Powell River yellowfin madtom population can rebound. To mark this optimism, the group has observed survivorship of released fish up to two years after release, nesting pairs and two nests of eggs, and at least one untagged juvenile that was spawned in the wild at one of the release sites.

Conservation Fisheries, Inc., is less optimistic about the fate of the Powell River slender chub. The slender chub is one of the rarest fish in eastern North America, and only a few specimens have been collected in the past 20 years. The species was considered rare to moderately common in the Powell River and the nearby Clinch River as recently as the early 1980s, but its precipitous decline since then is cause for concern that the species is in danger of extinction. Despite continued search efforts, CFI has been unable to obtain specimens for captive propagation of this highly imperiled fish.

Background information on endangered fish restoration for the Lone Mountain NRDAR settlement was obtained from Patrick Rakes, CFI, written commun., 2015; and from Lone Mountain NRDAR case documents at http://www.cerc.usgs.gov/orda_docs/CaseDetails?ID=914.
 
Economic impacts.—Work to restore the yellowfin madtom began in 2004 and continued through 2014. As of 2014, $177,000 (2014 dollars) in Lone Mountain Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) funds have gone to support the propagation and reintroduction of the yellowfin madtom in the Powell River, providing an average of $16,000 per year for fisheries conservation in the watershed. A small percentage of project expenditures was spent in the local area surrounding the project site, so the project had only a small effect on the local economy. Expanding to include all project expenditures, NRDAR funding for yellowfin madtom propagation has supported a total of 5.6 job-years; $259,000 in labor income; $313,000 in value added; and $529,000 in economic output in the national economy. 

References Cited
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003, Final restoration plan and environmental assessment for the Lone Mountain Processing Inc. Coal Slurry Spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 48 p., accessed May1, 2015, at http://www.cerc.usgs.gov/orda_docs/DocHandler.ashx?ID=517.
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Contact(s): Catherine M Cullinane Thomas, Christopher C Huber.

Overview

Project Period: 2004-2014

Location: Virginia

Restoration Type: Aquatic species propagation

Lead Agency: Conservation Fisheries, Inc.,U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Economic Impacts
National Economic Impacts (2014 dollars):

Total Project Expenditures: $177,000


Job-Years: 5.6 (31.6 per $1M)

Labor Income: $259,000 ($1.5M per $1M)

Value Added: $313,000 ($1.8M per $1M)

Economic Output: $529,000 ($3.0M per $1M)

Local Economic Impacts (2014 dollars):

Local Project Expenditures: $1,000

Percent of Project Expenditures Spent Locally: <1%

Local Job-Years: 0

Local Labor Income: $0

Local Value Added: $0

Local Economic Output: $1,000

Big Picture
Main Project: Lone Mountain NRDAR Settlement in the Powell River Watershed

In October 1996, a coal slurry impoundment associated with a coal processing plant owned by Lone Mountain Processing, Inc., in Lee County, Virginia, failed and released six million gallons of coal slurry into the Powell River watershed. “Blackwater,” a mixture of water, coal fines, clay, and associated contaminants, extended more than 20 miles downstream from the spill site. The Powell River watershed is part of the Upper Tennessee River Basin, which comprises one of the nation’s most biologically diverse aquatic ecosystems (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003). The coal slurry spill affected fish, endangered freshwater mussels, other stream organisms, and supporting aquatic habitat, including designated critical habitat for two Federally ... Show More

In October 1996, a coal slurry impoundment associated with a coal processing plant owned by Lone Mountain Processing, Inc., in Lee County, Virginia, failed and released six million gallons of coal slurry into the Powell River watershed. “Blackwater,” a mixture of water, coal fines, clay, and associated contaminants, extended more than 20 miles downstream from the spill site. The Powell River watershed is part of the Upper Tennessee River Basin, which comprises one of the nation’s most biologically diverse aquatic ecosystems (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003). The coal slurry spill affected fish, endangered freshwater mussels, other stream organisms, and supporting aquatic habitat, including designated critical habitat for two Federally listed fish—the yellowfin madtom ( Noturus flavipinnis) and the slender chub ( Erimystax cahni). A Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) settlement required that Lone Mountain Processing, Inc., pay $2,450,000 in damages for the natural resource injuries caused by the slurry spill to restore fish, mussels, and the habitats that support them. As part of this settlement, more than 500 acres of riparian land in southwestern Virginia have been preserved in partnership with The Nature Conservancy to protect habitat for aquatic organisms and other species, such as bats and songbirds.
This case study tells the story of five restoration projects in the Upper Tennessee River Basin that were supported by the Lone Mountain NRDAR settlement and the economic activity generated through expenditures on these projects. The highlighted restoration projects include: two mussel and fish propagation and reintroduction projects that are working to replace freshwater mussels and fish species killed during the spill, two instream and riparian restoration projects designed to provide fish and mussel habitat and to provide recreation and education opportunities in Lee County, and one acid mine drainage abatement project designed to improve water quality in the watershed. Figure 1-1 shows a map of the spill site and the five highlighted restoration projects. The U.S. Geological Survey collected data on restoration activities and expenditures to estimate the economic activity supported by these restoration projects.
Background information on the Lone Mountain NRDAR settlement was obtained from Anne Condon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Virginia Field Office, written commun., 2015; and from Lone Mountain NRDAR case documents at http://www.cerc.usgs.gov/orda_docs/CaseDetails?ID=914. Show Less

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Map
Images
Conservation Scientists Paddle to a Release Site with Bags of Fish.jpg
Young Propogated Yellowfin Madtoms Acclimating in a Bag.jpg
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