Kiosks connect karst to waterway
Educational kiosks at Lost World Caverns near Lewisburg describe how dye dropped into caves and sinkholes can appear far away in surface water likes creeks, streams and rivers. The concept is becoming increasingly important as area residents consider the potential impact of new industries, according to watershed advocates.
Standing next to a hot grill on a cold, breezy day, caver Carroll Bassett flipped burgers and hotdogs and looked over the crowd of nearly 100 gathered for the Karst Trail Grand Opening. Karst is a type of landscape formed by water moving over soluble rocks and these areas typically contain aquifers capable of holding large supplies of water.
"This is really a great turnout," said Bassett, president of the West Virginia Cave Conservancy, one of several groups represented at the trail kick-off. "It's important that people understand how precious our water resources are, and how easy it is to harm them."
The kiosks are the result of collaboration between the Greenbrier River Watershed Association (GRWA) and Steve Silverberg, owner of Lost World Caverns. Leslee McCarty is coordinator for The Lewisburg-based GRWA. She said the kiosks are part of a broad plan to help keep the public informed.
"Our mission is to protect the whole Greenbrier River," she said. "It's really important to understand how this area is affected by karst topography. The more we teach, the more we keep our water clean.
"With these kiosks in place, people can go on their own, read about the connectivity between caves and our river, and understand the potential impact of things like drilling for natural gas in Marcellus shale. Our next project is to get some classroom materials together so students can learn about karst, then take the self-guided tour at the caverns."
A special guest at the event was West Virginia Delegate Tom Campbell, of Greenbrier County, a member of the House of Delegates joint-select committee on drilling for natural gas in Marcellus shale. Following lunch, Campbell presented an update on legislative activity regarding the controversial issue.
He spoke at length about his support for tightening the permit process for hydrofracture gas drilling, which involves pumping large volumes of fluids underground to free natural gas from the Marcellus shale layer.
Campbell said a special select committee made up of house and senate members is closely studying hydrofracture legislation that exists in Pennsylvania, adding that drilling industry engineers have freely admitted they have little or no experience with drilling in karst topography. That comment brought forth several questions from attendees, some of whom expressed support for a moratorium on drilling until the industry can prove it can be done safely.
Campbell cautioned against a statewide moratorium, explaining that such legislation could create a backlash effect. Many officials in northern West Virginia are supportive of drilling-related revenues, he said, and a blanket moratorium could reduce the bargaining power of legislators.
"We want to get something from the industry," he said, "maybe more legislation to minimize negative karst impact. If we go for a moratorium, we may get nothing."
Speaking directly to those attendees most concerned about hydrofracturing in karst, Campbell said, "I'm told the industry doesn't plan to drill here."
"We are very pleased Delegate Campbell could come," said McCarty. "He's the only one from our region on this committee. We live in a unique area and it's good to know he's concerned, too.
The Karst Trail is a project that started last fall, said GRWA Board Member Audrey Sampson.
Paid for by Federal funds derived via the Clean Water Act, the three kiosks explore concepts like dye-illustrated connectivity, fragile ecosystems such as cave habitat and the geologic components of karst.
"I'm glad we have a lot of cavers in attendance today," said Sampson. "They've helped us throughout the trail development with insights into the geology of the area."
GRWA President John Walkup said mapping water resources in karst areas has more than one function.
"The main purpose is educating people about local geology and the water table," he said, "and not just through schools. Older people can benefit from this, too. It's also good to have a resource defined in case of emergencies. If something hazardous gets into the underground system, a good map tells us where it could end up."
With the success of this event, McCarty is already looking forward to next year.
"We would like to make this an annual event," she said. "We enjoyed good music, good food and learned a lot about our local environment. It's so good to see so many people genuinely concerned about protecting our water resources."
For more information about the GRWA, log onto http://wordpress.greenbrier.org/ or call 1-304-647-GRWA