What is a Watershed?
When precipitation reaches the ground at any given point, the slope and shape of the terrain (i.e., topography) causes each water drop to travel a path towards the lowest point in the landscape. In Pennsylvania, rivers and streams are typically found at these low points. Similarly, geologic characteristics directs precipitation to groundwater, which also travels to rivers and streams. The physical boundaries directing precipitation or groundwater into a particular stream or river is referred to as a “watershed.” Based on these boundaries, watersheds can be mapped as very large, as the case for the Allegheny River Watershed, which encompasses an 11,580-square mile drainage area in Pennsylvania and New York, or can be small like the Cowanshannock Creek Watershed, which encompasses a 63.3-square mile drainage area in eastern Armstrong County. In fact, the Cowanshannock Creek Watershed is a part of the Allegheny River Watershed! In this example, water that drains within the Cowanshannock Creek Watershed will flow to Cowanshannock Creek. Likewise, water that drains within the Allegheny River Watershed, including Cowanshannock Creek, will flow to the Allegheny River. Both clean and contaminated water drains through a watershed. So it is important to educate landowners on water quality issues and implement conservation practices and restoration projects to help keep our streams and rivers healthy.
Armstrong Conservation District (ACD) addresses water quality issues through our Watershed Conservation and Restoration Program. ACD receives Growing Greener funds from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a Watershed Specialist to focus on water quality improvement through District and grassroots initiatives. To date, six Watershed Associations were established in Armstrong County. ACD’s Watershed Specialist/Resource Conservationist provides Watershed Associations with assistance such as technical support but also works with municipalities, sportsman’s clubs, Trout Unlimited, and any other groups that carry out water quality projects throughout the county.
Water quality assessments and restoration reports had been completed for these six Armstrong County watersheds. We are now in the project implementation phase, applying for funding for restoration projects, particularly through the DEP’s Growing Greener grant opportunity. Our main focus includes implementing projects to improve surface water resources impaired from Non-Point Source Pollution due to mineral extraction, agriculture, timber harvesting, urban sources, and various causes of streambank erosion.
Example Watershed Restoration Projects may include:
Abandoned Mine Drainage Remediation Projects
These watershed restoration projects include remediation of abandoned mine drainage through the construction of treatment systems. Treatment systems can be constructed as passive or active (or semi-active). Passive systems do not use electricity to function and are low maintenance. Examples of passive treatment include Anoxic Limestone Drains and Constructed Wetlands. Active systems may include mechanical parts and electrical use, may need to be monitored more regularly than passive systems to ensure proper function, and typically require more maintenance than passive systems. The type of treatment system that is best for a particular project depends on the chemistry and flow rate of the drainage. Treating abandoned mine drainage reduces detrimental impacts to receiving surface waters, improving water quality for human and wildlife use.
Streambank Stabilization and Instream Diversion Structures
Sediment pollution due to streambank erosion is a considerable water pollution source in Armstrong County. Increased amounts of sediment causes unfavorable odor and taste of drinking water resulting in higher costs for water treatment. Sediment build up in streams increases water temperature, decreases oxygen availability for aquatic life, and disrupts the life cycle of aquatic organisms. Streambank restoration/stabilization projects are implemented throughout Armstrong County to prevent or slow erosion and deterioration of our watersheds. ACD implemented hundreds of projects to reduce sediment discharge to our streams. Some of these efforts included installing rock and log J-hook vanes, crossvanes, and straight vanes and installing cribwalls and root wads to stabilize streambanks. These structures were positioned to direct the force of the water current away from the streambanks to reduce erosion.
Aquatic Habitat Improvements
In addition to stabilizing streambanks, streambank stabilization and instream diversion structures create habitat for aquatic organisms. Root wads provide cover and wood increases the retention of organic matter and nutrients. J-hook vanes create pool habitat that serve as cover, shelter, and resting areas for fish. Rock and log vanes enhance riffle habitat when installed in slower moving water areas. The faster flowing riffles mix oxygen into the water making the habitat favorable for aquatic organisms.
Water Quality Monitoring
Armstrong Conservation District participates in water quality monitoring that includes assessing chemical and biological parameters of streams. We assist Kiski Conemaugh Stream Team with their Data Logger program and perform pre- and post-construction macroinvertebrate sampling at targeted stream improvement locations.
Watershed Education and Outreach
Equipping individuals with knowledge and tools to make informed decisions about our valuable water resources is key to protection, conservation, and management. ACD participates in watershed education and outreach through locally sponsored events to assist with improving and maintaining water quality for present and future residents of Armstrong County, for sustaining aquatic life, and for plant and wildlife use. Some of these events include:
- Trout releases associated with the Pennsylvania Trout in the Classroom program sponsored by school districts within Armstrong County and Arrowhead Chapter of Trout Unlimited
- Summer Camp programs at Crooked Creek Environmental Learning Center
- Table tending at The Great Dayton Fair
- Presentation requests at public and social gatherings
For more information about the importance of water, water sources and uses, protecting water resources, or implementing a watershed restoration project on your property, please contact ACD’s Resource Conservationist.