Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Decision Forbids Companies to Discharge Mine Wastes Into the Stream Used to Supply Reservoir

A CASE involving the pollution of waters by mine drainage of great interest to water companies has recently been decided by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. In 1905, the Mountain Water Supply Company, in order to supply, principally the Pennsylvania Railroad with pure water, constructed a reservoir on Indian Creek in South Western Pennsylvania, and pipe lines were laid therefrom to Pitcairn freight yards near Pittsburgh and to other points along the P. R. R., the total length of the same being about one hundred and forty-five miles, ranging from 36 inches to 12 inches in diameter. Service reservoirs were built along the lines and the investment amounted to over four million dollars at that time.

Water is also supplied by this company to about 75,000 people residing in Greensburg and vicinity through the Westmoreland Water Company. The drainage area above the dam is one hundred and ten square miles, and while it was known that there were thin veils of coal in the valley, it was not being mined at the time except for local use by farmers, and it was not thought that it ever would be mined to any extent. A few years after the dam was built, a railroad was constructed up the valley, mainly to haul out lumber, but as time went on, coal mines were opened above the dam, and the war creating an abnormal demand, coal began to be mined extensively.

The mining produced the usual flow of mine water, and the water companies realized that in time the increased amount of mine water would render the waters of Indian Creek totally unfit for use, as the waters of many streams in Western Pennsylvania had already become. It therefore became necessary to take some action and proceedings were brought in the Fayette County Court asking that the mine operators be restrained from allowing mine drainage to be discharged into the streams. The case was heard in Uniontown and required three weeks to try it. The Westmoreland Water Company and the Attorney General of Pennsylvania also appeared as plaintiffs, the latter on behalf of the public.

The judge handed down an opinion several months later, refusing the request, mainly on the ground that the Sanderson case, decided forty years ago, covered this case and that the flowing from the mines of drainage was a property right. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which completely reversed the lower court and directed that the operators of the mine cease allowing the mine drainage to flow into the creek after six months. It held that the Sanderson case does not apply where a public water supply is involved. .As to the “property right” question the court decided against any such contention, the opinion stating “the title acquired by the defendants (coal operators) whether by grant or demise gave them no property rights in the waters of the stream, save those which pertained to riparian ownership—obviously this did not include the right to pollute the stream.” The” opinion further says “our conclusion is that the defendants have no right of any kind to drain their_ mine waters into the stream, considering the public use which is made of its waters, and that their so doing constitutes a nuisance, which must be restrained.”

A petition for re-argument was presented by the attorneys for the defendants, but was refused by the court.

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