In its purest, cleanest form, it preserves life and can be home to an amazing number of plants, fish and other animals. But, protecting and even preserving its quality can be a challenge.
That is where the region’s watershed groups — volunteers who care about the water that affects them and the environment around them — fill an important role.
What is a watershed?
On the Lycoming County Web site, a watershed is defined as the “area of land over and through which water flows to the lowest point — a stream, river, wetland or lake.”
The cleanliness, or level of pollution, of that watershed affects its water quality, along with the health of the fish, plants, wildlife and even human beings who live nearby.
People who join watershed groups can volunteer for restoration or cleanup projects and help educate people about watersheds and the creatures living in them.
This region is home to a number of watershed organizations, some which have accomplished challenging restoration projects.
A Sun-Gazette reporter recently spoke with members of several area watershed groups to get their perspective of the challenges facing the environment and how their organizations are helping.
Babb Creek Watershed Association can tell one of the best success stories about how it restored an environmentally damaged watershed that covers Babb and Wilson creeks, both of which empty into Pine Creek.
“Acid mine drainage was our starting point,” said treasurer Stephen Schlesing. “We basically put in a passive system to address that problem. We put in an active treatment system near Antrim, funded by Growing Greener and federal Office of Surface Mining grants and we get a percentage from the tonnage from Phoenix Resources (Waste Management).”
According to Schlesing, the group spent more than $5 million on those projects and continues to spend about $50,000 per year maintaining them.
“Acid mine drainage treatment is not cheap,” he said.
Bill Beacom, another association member, said the group has received two more Growing Greener grants that will be used this year.
“One will help clean up a little, wild trout stream called Rock Run, which flows into Babb Creek,” Beacom said.
“We have another to improve a project on Lick Creek, which goes into Babb Creek near Arnot,” he added. “We want to improve some existing systems — one is a limestone cell that is getting clogged with iron that is precipitating.”
That will involve stirring the limestone in the system to remove the iron, which should help that system work more efficiently for another two to three years, he said.
“Right now we have a project near completion — fencing along some farms along Route 87 to keep the cows out,” Beacom said. “The farmers like that because we let the cows back in when it (the stream bed) is dry and the cows can’t do any damage.”
Without watershed groups, Beacom said, no one else might complete such remediation on impaired streams.
“They are about the only ones who can get what needs done in a watershed,” he said. “They have people who are interested and know the problem, who can follow it through.
“If there wasn’t a watershed association on Babb Creek, it would be dead,” Beacom said.
Original members of the group fought since 1989 to clean up acid mine drainage in the stream, he said. The association incorporated in 1998 and, in 2006, Babb Creek was reclassified as a wild trout stream again.
Trout reportedly have been moving up the stream as far as the acid mine drainage has been mitigated.
“The original members really fought and they wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Beacom said. “Now the main stem has fish in it again. We have 12 core people from Lycoming and Tioga counties, including a retired accountant, retired foresters, an attorney and others. They were all interested in Babb Creek for fishing.”
The big obstacles for watershed groups, he said, is getting the money to do remediation and other improvement projects.
“It’s always a problem,” Beacom said.
This year, Rock Run and the continuing acid mine drainage treatment will be the focus of the group.
Educational projects are stressed in the Muncy Creek Watershed Association, right along with its stream improvement projects, according to vice president Andrea Young.
“We cover Big Muncy and Little Muncy Creek and the tributaries that come into them,” she said. “That covers something like 215 square miles in Lycoming and Sullivan counties.”
“We consider education to be a very important part of our work and we have speakers at all of our public meetings, which are held at 7:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of every other month at the Shrewsbury Township building,” Young said.
The group, which is supported financially by Trout Unlimited, is working on stream improvement plans that will continue this year.
“We have two projects we are considering in the upper part of Muncy Creek on the main stem, but neither is secured yet,” she explained. “We are hoping to work with the Fish and Boat Commission on fish habitat structures, which have the added benefit of stabilizing the stream bank.”
That stabilization reduces erosion and improves water quality by reducing sediments in the water.
“Typically they are large hemlock logs about 30 feet long and they are tied together with Rebar or they are banded together and then anchored in the bank at an angle, pointing upstream,” Young explained.
Those projects are being considered for the Nordmont area, she said. The Fish Commission still is designing the project.
“We are looking for funding and permits for those projects,” Young said. “We are also looking for landowner cooperation and permission.”
The group also encourages people to grow native plants along streambanks and discourages the use of non-native species, such as bamboo or multiflora rose.
“We also do quite a bit with local schools,” Young said. “We show the children some of the creatures that are in the stream. Those insects are the basis of the food chain.”
Educational programs usually are held at meetings and in schools around Earth Day, and Scouting groups are invited to visit the creek.
Generally, watershed groups work to stabilize stream banks and reduce pollution.
“We are fortunate to not have a lot of industrial pollution here,” Young said.
“The banks that crumble into the streams and cause sediment are the greatest problem we are dealing with, and we make an effort toward remediating that,” she said.
Mel Zimmerman, Lycoming College biology professor and Clean Water Institute director, helped identify 175 sites along the creek that need work done to reduce bank erosion. That is where the group concentrates its projects.
The group also does roadside cleanup work once each year.
Black Hole Creek
Taking out the trash and working to improve conditions for fish are primary goals for the Black Hole Creek Watershed Association.
The creek, which begins on Armstrong Mountain, winds its way down to and across Elimsport Road, through the White Deer Golf Course, under Route 15 and through Montgomery Borough before it empties into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
Vice president Bill Schneck said the association is hoping to finish a general cleanup of the creek this year.
“We split the creek into three sections and we completed the second section last year,” he said “We are pulling all the trash and debris out of the creek.”
The group would like to see the whole creek return to its natural state as a good quality trout stream. Native brook trout live in the upper sections of the creek on the Elimsport Road side, but not in the lower portions, Schneck said.
“We are planning another planting out at the golf course and we are talking with the Fish Commission to see if we can eliminate or reduce the pond at the federal property because that water warms up too much,” Schneck said.
Also planned are a fishing derby for children on April 15, with support from Trout Unlimited.
“We have had no problems, but we have had a lot of support from the boroughs, the township and even the landfill, as well as people donating their time and efforts to help us,” Schneck said.
That’s not bad for a group of about 25 members.
The association meets at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at Montgomery Borough hall.
Cleaning from the top down is on the agenda of the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association, according to president Dr. Carol Kafer.
“Part of the watershed is in Lycoming County and part of it is in Sullivan County, so it is hard to deal with because it is 500 square miles of watershed,” said Kafer, who is a biology professor. “The headwaters are up in Dushore, so from top to bottom, it is about a one-hour drive.”
Despite the area’s enormity, Kafer said the association’s 200 members are trying to improve the whole watershed.
“We just finished up in Sullivan County with putting in a passive treatment system for drainage from an abandoned mine, called the Bernice Mine,” Kafer said. “DEP arranged things and we worked with them. One of the main problems we face is that the headwaters are in an abandoned mine field. But, the Sullivan County Conservation District has been wonderful at locating the mines and helping us get (acid mine drainage) treatment systems in.”
So far, those efforts have made a difference, she said.
“The pH has improved and we’ve had some wonderful mayfly hatches. That’s a good indicator,” she said. “The water is acidic from the mine drainage and from acid rain, so we try to put as many buffers in the water as we can.”
Other projects include planting creekside trees and shrubs near cabins in Worlds End State Park as a streambank stabilization effort.
“The shrubs were more bird-friendly, too,” she said. “We’re trying to get more wildlife back in near the cabins there.”
This year, the group hopes to improve trout habitat along the creek. The Fish and Boat Commission will evaluate two creeks in the watershed — Mill Creek and Wallis Run — for possible installation of log structures. Those will reduce streambank erosion and give fish shelter.
Educational programs during public meetings, held at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at the Plunketts Creek Fire Hall, will include a discussion about wild turkeys this month and a presentation on global warming in August. A field trip to the creek’s headwaters also is planned.
“I just wish more people would get involved,” Kafer said. “It is hard to get people to drive from Williamsport to Sullivan County.”
Watershed groups provide valuable care for natural resources, she said.
“We are all responsible for what goes into the creek and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay,” Kafer said. “Anything we can to do improve our creek improves things all the way to the ocean.”
Keeping things green is important, too, she said. Development means more runoff and less water that can soak into the ground.
“You can’t have a watershed without water,” Kafer said. “It has to get into the ground.”
– Next week: Discover more area watershed groups
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first part of a two-part series on area watershed groups and what they do for the environment. If you are a member of such a group and would like to share your stories with the Sun-Gazette, please call reporter Eric Long at 326-1551, ext. 3106.)