Morgantown, W.Va. — The American Society of Mining and Reclamation awarded its 2017 Pioneers in Reclamation Award to Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, for his significant impact to and advancement of the art and science of land reclamation over his career.
“The role of science is to make the world a better and safer place,” said Ziemkiewicz.
Making the world a better place is exactly what Ziemkiewicz has done over his 39 year career. It began with his training at Utah State University, where he graduated with a B.S. degree in biology. He then earned his M.S. in range ecology at Utah State University and his Ph.D. in forest ecology at the University of British Columbia.
In 1978, Ziemkiewicz became the director of the reclamation research program for Alberta Energy. While there, he developed a land use based mine reclamation strategy that was adopted by the Alberta Government.
In 1988, he moved to West Virginia to serve as director of the National Mine Land Reclamation Center at West Virginia University where he worked to address environmental impacts from historic coal mining. He has served as director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute since 1991. In this role he has worked to promote and implement scientifically sound strategies that prevent pollution from active mining.
In 1995, his research led the Federal Clean Streams Initiative to restore hundreds of miles of streams rendered lifeless by mining prior to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. As a result, West Virginia’s Cheat River, Maryland’s North Branch of the Potomac, Pennsylvania’s Conemaugh River and Kentucky’s Rock Creek are valuable fisheries.
Ziemkiewicz led the formulation of U.S. Office of Surface Mining’s acid mine drainage (AMD) policy in 1997. He received the 2005 Environmental Conservation Distinguished Service Award from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. Ziemkiewicz has also contributed his expertise to agencies and companies in India, China, Poland, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa.
With funding from Colcom Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey, he launched 3 Rivers QUEST, a program to protect and improve water quality in the Upper Ohio River Basin in 2009. The program monitors the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers and their major tributaries.
In December 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection declared 62 miles of the Monongahela River “impaired” for potable water use due to high salt content. The 3RQ program identified unregulated sulfates from coal mine water treatment facilities during low stream flow as the source of the problem. After meeting with industry representatives, he developed a computer model that adjusted treated discharge rates to river flow, thus maintaining salt levels well below drinking water standards. The industry voluntarily embraced the model and have used it since. As a result, after five years of 3RQ monitoring, PADEP and EPA declared the river no longer impaired.
When asked why he chose to focus on land reclamation and energy issues, he discussed growing up in western Pennsylvania in the 1950’s before any laws in reclamation existed. This gave him first-hand awareness of the need for technology and laws for reclamation. Receiving the 2017 Pioneers in Reclamation Award is extremely important to Ziemkiewicz.
“It is very gratifying to have recognition from my peers. ASMR is the original and internationally recognized organization for land restoration and I have an enormous respect for them.”
Other awards received by Ziemkiewicz include the 1985 E.M. Watkin Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Betterment of Land Reclamation from the Canadian Land Reclamation Association and the 2005 Environmental Conservation Distinguished Service Award from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration.
Ziemkiewicz said he feels that his flexibility and ability to change focus have been most influential. Next in his career, he hopes to focus on cleaning up acid mine drainage and watersheds and grow fisheries on former mines by using the same technology that turned Cheat Lake into a first-class fishery.