Spills of gritty water from an upstream sand and gravel mine turned water green in Maryland's Tuckahoe Creek. Photo: Choptank Riverkeeper

Sand Mine Spill Turns Eastern Shore Creek Bright Green

Jeremy Cox, Bay Journal News Service

A sand and gravel mine on the Eastern Shore of Maryland spilled so much sediment-loaded wash water that waterways up to 11 miles away turned a milky green color for at least two days.

A Maryland Department of the Environment investigation found that a subsidiary of Chaney Enterprises was responsible for the Dec. 2–4 incident. During that period, water overflowed from the Caroline County plant’s settling pond into a ditch, which carried the pollution into a stream and eventually into Tuckahoe Creek.

Aerial photographs captured by the Choptank Riverkeeper show greenish water flowing down the freshwater portion of the Tuckahoe. The creek is a tributary of the Choptank River and is considered an important breeding habitat for several fish species, including white and yellow perch, hickory shad and river herring.

“Heavy discharges of sediment like the one seen here have a tendency to destroy fish habitat, cloud the water and otherwise alter the water quality conditions,” said Choptank Riverkeeper Matt Pluta, “which is concerning for the species of fish that depend on healthy water quality and overall good habitat conditions in order to spawn.”

The color of the water was so vivid that Pluta said he initially mistook it for a rare cold-weather algae bloom.

The MDE received a complaint about the discolored water Dec. 2 and sent inspectors to the Chaney Enterprises mine the following day. Officials ordered the plant’s managers to shut down the wash plant until the settling pond could be pumped down enough to receive wastewater again without spillage, said agency spokesman Jay Apperson. The company reported Dec. 4 that it had stopped the discharge.

The MDE will continue to monitor the site and plans to meet with the company to ensure pollution-control regulations are met, Apperson added. The MDE also has proposed a $20,000 fine against the company.

A Chaney Enterprises official blamed the episode on the mechanical failure of a pump used to maintain the water level of the settling pond.

“We really care about the communities we do business in,” said Jan Holt, chief customer officer for the company, based in Gambrills, MD. “We are very sorry for the incident. It’s unfortunate and we are at fault.”

The company has since installed a second pump at the pond in case the first one breaks down again, she added.