Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Conservancy Works With Groups, Citizens to Protect Watersheds

Lake Pleasant

The Watershed Conservation Program’s work illustrates the strong relationships the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has forged with communities. Working primarily from an office in Indiana County, the watershed conservation staff offers a full range of services throughout the region, including watershed assessments, watershed conservation plans, stream bank restoration projects and aquatic species surveys, as well as technical assistance for landowners and local watershed organizations.

In 2012, the program partnered with local groups and citizens to protect the most ecologically significant watersheds and restore impaired waterways. All told, watershed conservation staff enhanced or protected 276 stream miles and stabilized 10,850 feet of stream bank. The program also provided technical assistance to 93 grassroots watershed groups.

With more than 20,000 miles of unpaved roads in Pennsylvania, dirt and gravel roads are a significant source of sediment pollution in our streams. WPC watershed staff last year improved nearly 2½ miles of dirt and gravel roads to keep sediment from entering streams.

Working with agricultural operators, WPC staff installed more than 40 best management practices designed to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution, with notable results. For example, pre- and post-project water quality sampling on two farms within the Juniata River region showed that one farm had a 65 percent decrease in nitrate concentrations three years after implementing streambank fencing. The other farm showed a 99.5 percent decrease in nitrate levels.

West Branch French Creek
West Branch French Creek

Also in 2012, staff completed four inventories of watersheds impaired by acid mine drainage and developed restoration strategies. The watershed conservation staff planted three acres of riparian trees at Kishacoquillas Creek in Mifflin County, a tributary of the Juniata River, and installed two new canoe access sites on Western Pennsylvania streams.

Documenting Hellbender Populations

Other highlights include an ambitious attempt to document new hellbender populations. WPC and numerous partner organizations joined forces to complete one of the largest survey efforts ever in the Allegheny National Forest. Survey crews sampled 22 different locations on 17 named streams totaling almost 7 miles of stream surveyed. During more than 500 hours of sampling, 78 hellbenders were captured and processed using field protocols, then released.

Hellbenders were recovered from several tributaries of the Allegheny River, Clarion River and Tionesta Creek, with hellbenders being verified in six streams within the ANF. Initial results show that a healthy, well-balanced hellbender population – one made up of juveniles, sub-adults and mature adults – only occurs in the Tionesta Creek.

Improving Habitats and Water Quality

In an effort to restore fish and aquatic organism passage within the East Branch Tionesta Creek watershed within the Allegheny National Forest, the Conservancy worked with the U.S. Forest Service to replace a total of 10 undersized culverts. This work was done within eight headwater tributaries and six miles of the main stem of the creek, which is designated as a High-Quality Coldwater Fishery and supports naturally reproducing brook trout.

The project gave fish and other aquatic species access to spawning habitat throughout the watershed and improved aquatic habitat and water quality. The larger culverts better accommodate high flows, reducing flooding of the dirt and gravel roads and reducing erosion and sedimentation.