This is the first in a series of blogs on how community conservation groups worked with farmers in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, and Rockingham County, Virginia, to improve the water quality of local streams and rivers through various Best Management Practices. Read on!
Mill Creek, Bradford County, PA
Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains lie along its Northern Tier, against the New York border in Bradford County. The parallel mountain ridges provide spectacular views through this rural countryside of forests and farms. In the 1970s, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources created a new state park at the foot of Mt. Pisgah and dammed the stream at its base, Mill Creek, to form Stephen Foster Lake, which drains through Sugar Creek to the Susquehanna River near Towanda. The lake developed a reputation with recreational anglers for largemouth bass and panfish, while people flocked to the park for picnics and other activities.
Soon, though, the lake grew cloudy with sediment and began growing summertime algae blooms. The area where the creek flowed in became significantly shallower. (The inflowing sediment eventually reduced the lake's volume by 29 percent.) When the blooms died off and fell to the bottom, bacteria decaying them sucked the oxygen out of the deeper waters, reducing fish habitat. The problems worsened through the 1980s, so in 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency commissioned a three-year study of the lake, conducted by the Bradford County Conservation District under the guidance of District Manager Mike Lovegreen.
The study looked at both the lake and its upstream Mill Creek watershed, to work out the causes and evaluate the feasibility of remedying them. It included both chemical and biological analysis, as well as inventorying land use and changes to the streambed over time. Part of the problem proved to be that the small 70-acre lake received all of the runoff from a relatively large 6,577-acre watershed, with 57.5 percent in agriculture (41.6 percent in pasture, 15.9 percent in row crops), compared with 41.2 percent in forests and only 1.4 percent in developed land and ponds. Land use was driving the condition of the lake. The problem was a miniature version of what plagues the Chesapeake Bay: a large land area draining to a small, shallow settling basin.
The lake study documented serious problems with phosphorus and sediment pollution, most of it coming from the 13 dairy farms in the watershed. In 2000, the EPA declared the creek and the lake impaired for those two pollutants and published a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), calling for significant reductions.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on how forested streamside buffers and other innovative methods helped restore this unique watershed.
--John Page Williams
Stephen Foster Lake developed a reputation with recreational anglers for largemouth bass and panfish, while people flocked to the park for picnics and other activities. Photo courtesy of John Page Williams/CBF Staff.