Celebrating the Successes: Hydroelectricity at the Tanoma AMD Wetlands

By Elena Tafone

At its core, successful conservation comes down to two things: education and funding.

It was with that in mind that the Captain Planet Foundation was created. The Atlanta-based organization—co-founded by Ted Turner and Barbara Pyle in 1991—strives to give the next generation an active understanding and love for the natural world around them through educational programming and grants to like-minded groups. One such group is the Evergreen Conservancy based in Tanoma, Pennsylvania.

The Tanoma AMD Wetlands

Formerly the site of a mine, the runoff from the Tanoma AMD (abandoned mine drainage) Wetlands was contaminating the local water supply through a nearby creek—Crooked Creek. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), in addition to being a home to a multitude of of plant and animal species, wetlands feed downstream waters, keep back floodwaters, replenish groundwater supplies, and remove pollution, which was especially important at Tanoma. 

The Evergreen Conservancy

The Evergreen Conservancy was formed in 2003 to oversee the continued maintenance and conservation of the wetland area.

“Early on, after we acquired the property, we decided that it would be a great outdoor classroom,” said Cindy Rogers, the president of the Evergreen Conservancy Board of Directors “So, we got a lot of little grants and we put in a pavilion and a path and a parking lot and we do a lot of environmental education up there.”

Constructed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in the late 1990s, the Tanoma AMD Wetlands is a passive mine drainage treatment, which means that, as the water from the mine naturally flows through the marsh lands and a series of ponds, that pollution—mostly iron runoff—is absorbed.

          

Unfortunately, this natural filtration system proved to be insufficient for the amount of discharge the mine was producing. What the Tanoma AMD needed were aerators in the ponds, which would increase the level of dissolved oxygen in the water and, consequently, better filter out the iron. To run those aerators, they needed electricity, so they harnessed the resources around them: water. More specifically, water in the form of hydroelectric power.

Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power has been used in some form or another since ancient times. On a small scale, a wheel in a stream can power a mill to grind wheat or make cider as well as producing power, while larger ones—such as the Hoover Dam--can power entire cities. The basic concept is this: a wheel placed in flowing water is connected to a network of gears. These gears turn, creating energy from the kinetic power of the water running through the wheel.

In 2013, a basic water turbine was built at Tanoma, built by volunteers from the Evergreen Conservancy, based on the blueprints for a turbine one of its members had patented. However, the next year, a major flood destroyed it.

This is where the Captain Planet Foundation stepped in by giving the organization a small grant. With the money, they were able to purchase a new turbine—an Ampair UW 100 model—and are once again creating green, renewable energy.

“We use it for our aerators in the first pond to help iron drop out of the water,” said Ms. Rogers, “and also to provide electricity to our pavilion and to provide energy for our electric lawnmower—renewable energy—that we use to maintain the property.” This means that the Tanoma AMD Wetlands are completely off-the-grid and self-sustaining when it comes to electricity.

Education and the Community

Not only is the turbine practical, but it’s educational as well. According to Ms. Rogers, the turbine makes for a great “a demonstration project that we could use to in environmental education and also for people to see different applications for water, wind, and solar panels.” Tanoma runs educational programs that are attended by girl scouts, boy scouts, and homeschoolers. While classes from nearby high schools come to the site to get a hands-on learning experience, volunteers also come to them.

“We talk about retaining buffer zones, water testing, pretty much any program related to water: water cycles, water sheds, you name it,” said Rogers. “We sort of tailor it to the needs that the kids have, the teachers ask for.”

Volunteers from Tanoma base these lessons upon the programs outlined by the Project WET— Water Education for Teachers—Foundation and Project WILD, one of the most widely-used conservation and environmental education programs among educators of students in kindergarten through high school.

The local university also incorporates Tanoma into its curriculum. “We partner with a lot of folks in the county, the local university, Indiana University of Pennsylvania” explained Ms. Rogers. “They take all our data and put it on a website for us. We work with students at IUP to do other research projects and programs around their data-logger site and water quality all over the county.”

In 2011, Evergreen Conservancy—with the support of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania—installed real-time, data loggers record pH, temperature, flow and conductivity within the local streams. A group of volunteers goes out to check the sites and download data every two weeks. The Tanoma AMD Wetlands are very much a part of this small Pennsylvanian community. Starting in 2011, the Evergreen Conservancy partnered up with the Indiana Arts Council to use the iron collected from Tanoma in art. As part of a joint fundraiser, local artists were given iron oxide to use in their art, then donated the pieces to sell at an auction at the Indiana Art Council‘s annual meeting. In its first year, the fundraiser raised nearly $1,000.

 

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