Northeastern Section - 49th Annual Meeting (2325 March)

Paper No. 18-5
Presentation Time: 3:10 PM

RECOVERY OF THE WEST BRANCH SUSQUEHANNA WATERSHED


WOLFE, Amy G. and RUMMEL, Shawn, Trout Unlimited, 18 East Main Street, Suite 3, Lock Haven, PA 17745, awolfe@tu.org
Prior to the federal Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, poorly regulated coal mining activities led to the pollution of more than 5,500 miles of streams and rivers across Pennsylvania. This pollution known as abandoned mine drainage (AMD) is one of the leading sources of water pollution in Pennsylvania. Typically laden with metals such as iron and aluminum and acid, AMD often renders streams incapable of supporting aquatic life. Approximately 20% (1,200 miles) of these AMD-impaired stream miles are found in the bituminous coal region of the West Branch Susquehanna River basin in central and northcentral Pennsylvania.

While a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities already abound in the watershed, its potential has been significantly stymied by the tens of thousands of acres of abandoned surface mine lands and AMD-polluted streams. Nevertheless, significant momentum gained in the cleanup of AMD, especially since 2004 when Trout Unlimited launched the West Branch Susquehanna Restoration Initiative, and advances in AMD treatment technology over the past decade are changing this legacy of pollution from historic mining. The improvements in water quality and biological conditions were studied and documented through Trout Unlimited’s West Branch Susquehanna Recovery Benchmark Project. In partnership with the PA Department of Environmental Protection, PA Fish and Boat Commission, Susquehanna River Basin Commission, and members of the West Branch Susquehanna Restoration Coalition, Trout Unlimited targeted 90 data collection sites throughout the watershed. Trout Unlimited and its partners collected water quality and aquatic insect samples, measured streamflows, conducted habitat surveys and assessed fish populations over a five-month period in 2009.

Trout Unlimited continues to monitor water quality improvements and biological recovery in several targeted watersheds where benthic macroinvertebrates and brook trout are returning. This presentation discusses the improving water quality and biological conditions and the natural and man-made processes that are responsible for the recovering watershed such as natural attenuation, remining, and AMD passive and active treatment.