Aquatic Connectivity and Species Passage
Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams have been conduits for humans since Native Americans first used trails along the river bottoms to travel across the Commonwealth. As the state became more developed, infrastructure increased including roads, bridges, culverts and dams.
All of these improvements were aimed at increasing the ability to transport natural resources, such as timber and coal, with inadequate planning or provisions for aquatic resources including native trout, freshwater mussels and hellbenders.
This has led to fragmentation of watersheds, disrupting natural pathways for the movement of aquatic organisms, reducing sediment and woody debris transport, and requiring routine maintenance for the owners of roads. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy watershed conservation staff work to assess problematic barriers to aquatic organism passage.
We identify undersized or inadequate culverts, and dilapidated dams, and then work with the owner and our partners to complete projects that restore passage for aquatic organisms. Our work still maintains transportation needs and access. WPC uses the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative protocol.
In many instances, removing dams and replacing culverts significantly improve fish populations and species diversity, which are important to the health of the waterway and long-term species survival rates. This is vital not only for the health of aquatic life and dependent ecosystems, but for Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation industry that depends on opportunities for fishing.
An example of this work is the successful multi-year Morrison Run restoration effort that was completed in 2014. Morrison Run is a naturally reproducing native trout stream within the Allegheny National Forest. Conservancy staff worked alongside the U.S. Forest Service, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Trout Unlimited to replace a culvert with a bridge and removed a dam to install an in-stream rock ramp. These barriers were removed to improve fish and aquatic organism passage in the stream.
Our scientists are currently collecting data and conducting fish sampling and other research in Morrison Run to assess improvements to aquatic habitats in this stream. With the help of volunteers and partners, we will continue efforts to address these issues across the region including in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. We recently removed multiple dams on Dunbar Creek, a 12.6-mile-long stream in Fayette County, which is a tributary of the Youghiogheny River.