Path Home Shows 2009 Show Archive October 2009 Show 0943 Super Fund Clean Up

Super Fund Clean Up

We travel to Commerce, Oklahoma where an OU Professor is looking to nature to help clean up some very dirty water.
Super Fund Clean Up

Dirty water

Show Dates

Show 0943: Super Fund Clean Up

Air date: October 25, 2009



Rob:  Well moving now from water quantity to water quality.  Northeast Oklahoma was once an area known for its abundant underground resources.  So much so, that during World War I, the U S government established several mines in the area to extract lead from the ground and make bullets for our military.  And while the miners have all but left the area today, the impact of their operation still remains.  An impact evident in soaring piles of mine waste, a town left abandoned, and a water supply turned foul.  Our Russ Jowell takes us to Commerce, Oklahoma, where one OU professor is looking back to nature to clean up some dirty water.

Bob Nairn:  This is a project that the University of Oklahoma, through our Center for Restoration of Ecosystems and Watersheds has been working on for a number of years.

Russ:  And one that OU Professor, Bob Nairn, hopes will begin the healing process in a region scarred by environmental neglect.

Bob:  Mine water in the Tar Creek area has been flowing unabated for about thirty years.  It contains elevated cadmium, and lead, and zinc, and iron.  It discharges all that water, eventually, into Tar Creek.  Tar Creek of course discharges into the Neosho River, and that water eventually gets into Grand Lake of the Cherokees.

Russ:  So Bob established what is known as a passive water treatment site at the point where water discharges from the mine, in hopes of making it a little less harsh on the surrounding waters.

Bob:  So we’ve got a ten cell treatment system over an area of about three and a half acres that takes the mine water out of the ground and through a series of ponds, improves the water quality before we discharge it to the stream.

Russ:  A process powered wholly by Mother Nature.

Bob:  Water is just flowing, by artesian flows, up out of the mine pool into a first large oxidation pond, where we’re really just trying to aerate the water.  Then we go into some filter wetland cells where we’re trying to remove some of the particulate materials.  Then what we call vertical flow bio reactors.  These actually contain an organic substrate, spent mushroom compost and wood chips, and we’re promoting specific microbial reactions.

Russ:  The water is then re-aerated using natural wind power and given a final polishing touch before being released into the stream.

Bob:  We try to polish the water in some limestone beds, and then finally this polishing cell behind me where we’re really just trying to recombine the waters, remove some residual solids before we discharge back out into the stream.

Russ:  Bob hopes the treatment system will withstand the test of time, and shine some hope, on an area desperate for change.

Bob:  Design lifetime of the passive system is about thirty years, based upon our calculations.  We’re committed to continually monitoring that.  We have some graduate students working here, under our current funding.  We’re always looking for more funding to continue that monitoring over the next couple of decades.

Russ:  Monitoring a journey back to a more pure life in northeast Oklahoma.