National Wildlife Refuge System
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Credit: USFWS

Selenium Threat Averted

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has resolved a case of chemical contamination that threatened migratory birds at Cane Ridge Wildlife Management Area, a 463–acre unit of the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Indiana. The selenium contamination was traced to Duke Energy Company’s discharge of waste water used to transport coal ash slurry to a storage lagoon on plant property. After the coal ash was deposited, the excess waste water was then discharged into the 3,000–acre cooling lake from which water was then released into the nearby bird sanctuary. Selenium, a coal processing byproduct, is essential for cell function, but is toxic in large amounts.

In 2007, after tests showed elevated selenium levels in fish, Duke Energy banned fishing in Gibson Lake, a cooling reservoir for Duke Energy’s coal–fired Gibson Generation Station. The Service also stopped receiving water from Gibson Lake after biologists determined that eating the selenium–contaminated fish might be harmful to egg development in birds. Service biologists flagged contaminated areas with colored ribbons to discourage endangered least terns and other migratory birds from nesting there.

Last year, Service biologists took further action to protect wildlife by draining the Crane Ridge ponds, removing the fish and, in addition, plowing the pond bottoms to redistribute and bury the selenium in the soil.

Duke Energy spent $600,000 to pipe water from the Wabash River, instead of from Gibson Lake, into Cane Ridge. Duke also paid to stock 62,000 fathead minnows into the Cane Ridge ponds to lure back migratory birds. As a result, avocets, dunlins, black terns, Forster's terns, Caspian terns and 50 endangered least terns have returned.

According to the Service’s Bill McCoy, who oversees Cane Ridge WMA, “We will continue to work with Duke Energy and our many other partners to ensure Cane Ridge continues to be a safe place for both people and wildlife.”

Cane Ridge WMA, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is a migratory bird haven along the Wabash River used by many species of shorebirds and waterfowl seeking food and rest on their way to northern nesting grounds. It is part of the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Wildlife Management Area.

Contact: Bill McCoy, Refuge Manager, Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Wildlife Management Area, at 812–749–3199 or email
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