A Season of Change: Autumn at Douglas and Albert Falls
These photographs capture a period of warmer weather and vibrant autumn leaves, showcasing Douglas Falls and Albert Falls on the North Fork Blackwater River near Davis, West Virginia.
The waterfalls are in proximity to deteriorating underground coal mines, which have resulted in acid mine drainage, discoloring the river rocks with a distinctive orange tint. The entire North Fork watershed is significantly affected by this acid mine drainage.
The region experienced extensive underground coal mining starting in 1882 in the Upper Potomac coalfield, which continued until around 1950. Following this period, surface strip mining became prevalent until the 1980s, by which time most of the coal that could be economically mined had been extracted.
Abandoned mine drainage refers to water contaminated by mining activities. This specifically involves sulfur-rich and other iron sulfide minerals that, when exposed to air and water, form sulfuric acid and dissolve iron. Water flowing from such contaminated sites, including waste heaps and old mines, becomes highly acidic, containing elevated levels of aluminum, iron, and manganese, exceeding safe levels for fishing, public water supply, and recreational activities. Considerable efforts and resources have been dedicated to reclaiming affected areas, including highways, waste piles, and mine openings. Some early efforts to treat the water with limestone have had varying success.