West Branch Susquehanna
Draining nearly 7,000 square miles, the West Branch of the Susquehanna River is the largest of the Susquehanna River sub-basins. It contains more than 1.4 million acres of State Forest, more than 250,000 acres of State Game Lands, 29,000 acres of State Park land, and nearly 1,250 miles of exceptional value streams. The watershed is located in the heart of the Pennsylvania Wilds region, whose name reflects its rustic, natural beauty.
Forests dominate the land cover of the watershed, with very little area being used for agricultural purposes. Nearly all of Pennsylvania’s elk herd resides within this watershed. Although the watershed contains some of the best forests and streams in the state, its overall potential is limited by water quality degradation, which impairs aquatic life throughout most of the system. One of the state’s most prevalent pollution problems, abandoned mine drainage (AMD), is responsible for polluting 57 percent of the watershed. Of the watershed’s pollutants, 94 percent can be attributed to the legacy of coal mining in the region. There are nearly as many miles of dead or degraded streams affected by AMD as there miles classified as exceptional value. The watershed also contains nearly 37,000 acres of unreclaimed abandoned mine land (AML) features.
A Dedicated Coalition
The status of this watershed may seem bleak, but there are significant efforts underway by local groups, state and federal agencies, and the conservation community to restore both degraded lands and waters within the West Branch. Considerable improvements have been achieved in some areas, but much remains to be done.
WPC is partnering with local watershed groups such as Trout Unlimited, DEP, DCNR, PA Fish and Boat Commission, and others to protect high quality habitats and restore impaired natural resources. We are developing a watershed conservation plan for Sinnemahoning Creek, providing technical assistance to groups cleaning up AMD and stabilizing stream banks in several sub-basins, working on an overall plan to restore water quality to the main stem, and completing County Natural Heritage Inventory work. Future work will focus on further developing conservation priorities and continuing restoration activities.