Watershed Restoration & Protection
The Watershed Conservation Program has extensive expertise with overall construction project management including permitting, working with contractors, design and direct implementation. The program assists with a variety of conservation projects that address non-point source pollution problems including:
- Abandoned mine drainage assessments (AMD) and project management
- Agricultural best management practices
- Watershed assessment and stream bank stabilization
- In-stream habitat design and construction
- Dirt and gravel road design
- Project management
Abandoned Mine Drainage
In 1977, Congress passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), establishing laws and taxes that require present-day coal mine operators to take responsibility for the reclamation and restoration of the land that they temporarily disturb while mining coal. Today, WPC staff work with local watershed groups to fund, design and build treatment systems that address the formerly careless coal mining practices that fouled many of Western Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers.
Riparian Tree Planting
Riparian areas are located where bodies of water meet the land. Maintaining healthy vegetative cover is one of the most effective ways of limiting non-point source pollution, or sediment and nutrient run off, on the land. Planting and maintaining forested buffers further helps water quality by creating shade and limiting temperature fluctuations in the stream. There are many benefits to forested buffers, including protection from accelerated erosion, creation of wildlife habitat and alleviation of downstream flooding problems. To assist in limiting non-point source pollution, WPC planted more than 20,000 riparian trees in 2013 and 2014.
Alysha Trexler, watershed projects manager, explains why WPC planted more than 20,000 trees on Western Pennsylvania's watersheds and what they will do to improve water quality in this video.
Stream Bank Stabilization and In-stream Habitat Improvement
Many watersheds in Western Pennsylvania suffer from excessive runoff from impervious surfaces or areas with little or no forested land. These areas tend to have accelerated rates of stream bank erosion, which exacerbates sedimentation problems in the stream. WPC uses a variety of restoration techniques to reduce this sedimentation and improve both streamside and in-stream habitats. Many of these enhancements also create substrates for aquatic life and resting and feeding places for fish—thus improving the overall water quality of stream.
Saving Little Mahoning Creek
The Little Mahoning Creek watershed, located in northern Indiana County, is a unique and valuable resource in southwestern Pennsylvania. Despite being located in the heart of the bituminous coal region, Little Mahoning Creek largely dodged the devastating impacts of abandoned mine drainage. Because of this and the area’s rural nature, the stream is home to an impressive list of freshwater mussel, fish and aquatic insect species. It is also home to the eastern hellbender salamander. Little Mahoning Creek is classified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as a High Quality – Cold Water Fishery.
The area has a measurable influence on the local economy, particularly with regard to tourism. The stream boasts one of the Commonwealth’s most popular special regulation fly fishing-only areas. This 4.3 mile stretch of stream is regularly visited by anglers from across the country. The rest of the stream is a popular trout fishery open to all types of fishing tackle. It is heavily stocked with brown and brook trout by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and native brook trout populations exist within some headwater tributaries.
The Little Mahoning watershed is located in the Pittsburgh low plateau section, which is dominated by low-level upland features with elevations ranging from 660 – 1,700 feet. The mainstem flows into Mahoning Creek, which ultimately empties into the Allegheny River near Templeton, PA. Land uses in the watershed are dominated by agriculture and deciduous forests, comprising over 86.9% of the available land area.