Friday, March 23, 2018

State Of The Kiski-Conemaugh River Watershed Report Shows Significant Water Quality Improvement

The Conemaugh Valley Conservancy recently released a State Of the Kiski-Conemaugh River Watershed which documents a complete shift in the aquatic community in the watershed caused by significant water quality improvements.
The 500-page report also provides a status report on each of the 120 recommendation made in the original 1999 Kiski-Conemaugh River Watershed Conservation Plan.
This is a truly remarkable story of how individuals, groups and local, regional and state partners of all kinds have worked to restore their watershed and contributed significantly to their local economy in Armstrong, Cambria, Indiana, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.
Here is an executive summary of the findings in the report.
The Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin encompasses 1,888 square-miles of southwestern Pennsylvania. It comprises 16 percent of the Allegheny River watershed, making it the largest sub-basin of the Allegheny River, which serves as a drinking water source for at least half a million people.
Historically plagued by the results of the Industrial Revolution and the boom-bust economy that accompanied this time period, orange veins of polluted water coursed through the Kiski Basin’s heavily forested landscape for decades.
Beginning as early as the 1970s, but more so in the 90s, watershed organizations and conservation groups mobilized and began addressing the problems within their boundaries.
Many of these issues were documented in the original Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin Conservation Plan published in 1999.
It was not a plan that collected dust on a shelf; it was heavily utilized with about 88 percent of its 120 recommendations implemented to some degree.
In 2013, the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy’s KiskiConemaugh Stream Team secured funds to update this plan and document the recovery of our streams and rivers.
People recognized that the waterways were improving, but no one had quantified and publicized the collective results of restoration and conservation efforts since 1999.
Over four years of data collection, tabulation, and evaluation created this document, which reveals that many of our streams and rivers have changed from being net acidic to net alkaline; fish poor to fish rich.
Yet, much work remains.
Many Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD) treatment systems are failing or undersized, erosion and sedimentation is replacing AMD as the number one source of water pollution, combined sewer overflows dump untreated waste into rivers on which people are increasingly recreating, new forms of natural resource extraction threaten the ecosystem, and funding sources are far less abundant.
On top of that, of the twelve watershed associations that operated in the Kiski Basin, two are defunct from a lack of interest and membership has dropped or remained about the same since the group’s inception at seven others.
Watershed associations struggle with securing volunteers to serve on their board of directors, replacing aging volunteers, and invigorating the group with new ideas and connections.
Still, hope remains and all past efforts have not been for naught.
From 0 To 28 Fish Species
The Kiskiminetas River, the receiving waterway of all upstream restoration and conservation efforts, has drastically improved biologically and has become a recreational fishing and paddling destination.
In 1980, when the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (now DEP) surveyed fish at the mouth of the Kiskiminetas River, they found no fish; just one frog.
The river was dead largely from uncontrolled mine and industrial discharges, sewage, and runoff.
When that survey was repeated in 2015 by the PA Fish and Boat Commission, 386 individuals of 28 species were collected and that doesn’t even include some species, like walleye, that anglers report catching in the Kiski and that were captured in the 1990 and 2000 surveys!
Species sensitive to pollution like the mooneye and brook silverside were collected for the first time in 2015!
This is a tremendous increase that stems from a decline in industry, an increase in regulations, and the start of reclamation efforts.
The Conemaugh River is another great example of what can be achieved through passion, persistence, and public-private partnerships.
From pH Of Beer To Fish Safe
In 1993, the Conemaugh River in Blairsville had a pH of 4.8, which is comparable to beer and too acidic for most fish to survive. In 1997, the Conemaugh River in Blairsville had a pH of 6.8 but an alkalinity of only 6 mg/L.
Most aquatic life needs a pH between a 5 and an 8 to survive, and Chapter 93 of Title 25 in the Pennsylvania Code requires that alkalinity measure at least 20 mg/L as Calcium Carbonate.
Typically, the higher the alkalinity, the more nutrients available to aquatic life and the stream’s productivity is higher. In 2017, the pH of the Conemaugh River in Blairsville rose to 7.8! Because the pH scale is logarithmic, that’s a 1,000 percent improvement since 1993!
Also, the Conemaugh’s alkalinity measured 57.8 mg/L in 2017.
This improvement is reflected in the visual appeal of the river, the increase in use and promotion of the river, and the proliferation of the fish diversity in the river.
In 1997, fish species tolerant to pollution like bluegill and creek chub dominated the fish community in Blairsville with 14 species documented.
In 2015, 16 species were collected. While this may not seem significant, the key is that many more pollution-sensitive species, like banded darter and logperch, constituted the collection in 2015.
In the community of White, before the Conemaugh River and Loyalhanna Creek come together to form the Kiskiminetas River in Saltsburg, an even greater fish community shift was discovered.
In 1997, only eight fish species were collected, while in 2015, 13 fish species were netted, including the rare and pollution-sensitive streamline chub and bigeye chub.
Additionally, in 2015, twice the number of fish were collected in half the survey length!
After running a metric called the Jaccard Coefficient of Community Similarity that measures how similar a site is in biological composition to another site or to itself over time, the greatest community shift at the three sites surveyed on the mainstem of the Conemaugh River in 2015 was in Seward.
Here, only six fish species were collected during a PA Fish and Boat Commission survey on September 17, 1997. Creek chubs dominated the collection by nearly half.
Exactly 18 years later, California University of PA and the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy surveyed the same site and collected nine fish species with pollution-sensitive banded darter and longnose dace dominating.
Remain At Tipping Point
Of course, we remain at a tipping point in that our waterways could revert to their former, near lifeless states if existing AMD treatment systems are not maintained, or if laws and regulations are relaxed to the point that industrial discharges degrade our waterways, or if new forms of resource extraction are not closely monitored and held to high standards.
On the other hand, more improvements could be seen as it seems Mother Nature just needed a helping hand to bring life back to our waterways, so with a few more nudges in the right direction, our aquatic communities could blossom even more.
To provide those nudges, we need to get creative with technology, funding, and community buy-in.
Since many of the “low-lying fruits” have been addressed, our challenge now is to remediate discharges that were previously thought untreatable.
Fortunately, large, active treatment systems like Rosebud Mining Company’s St. Michael Treatment Plant are no longer off the table.
The PA DEP is pursuing the design and construction of at least two such systems, one for the Wehrum and nearby discharges in the Blacklick Creek watershed and another for the Hughes, Sonman, and Miller Mine Shaft discharges in the Little Conemaugh River watershed.
And, an active treatment system may be constructed at some point in the next decade for the Big 4 AMD in Central City, in the Stonycreek River watershed.
This would restore 13.1 miles of Dark Shade and Shade Creeks, as well as benefit the Stonycreek River, which is a growing fishery, a popular whitewater recreation destination, and an economic driver in the Johnstown area.
Economic Contributions
There have been several economic studies to capture the value of eco-tourism, which stems from improved natural resources, though none have focused specifically on the Kiski Basin.
Besides the obvious environmental impacts, land and water conservation enhances property values, reduces local taxes, improves the quality of life, which attracts businesses and employees, and creates jobs.
The Trust for Public Land published Pennsylvania’s Return on Investment in the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund and found, “that every $1 invested in land conservation returned $7 in natural goods and services to the Pennsylvania economy.”
This makes it evident that healthy waterways and landscapes not only contribute to personal well-being, but to the economy as well.
In 1999, there was only one canoe/kayak outfitter serving the Kiski Basin; now there are five!
In 1999, the “KiskiConemaugh Water Trail” map was in development and included all 86 river miles on one map.
Now a revised map breaks down the Kiski Basin into an Upper and Lower Section, each with its own map highlighting safety, natural and recreation features, and river towns’ businesses and points of interest. There’s even an interactive online map too.
Unquestionably, we have to be mindful of how our work impacts the environment and those waterways downstream.
The collective we, who work on treating AMD, restoring waterways, and conserving resources, might be too good at our jobs!
We need to make sure that we do not allow our rivers to have too high of a pH. At a pH of about 8.2, aluminum, which is near lethal levels for aquatic life in some of our waterways, can become soluble on the basic or high end of the pH scale, and become toxic to fish.
We’ve seen it on a smaller scale in the Blackleggs Creek watershed, which is a naturally alkaline watershed.
Treatment systems here, as throughout the Kiski Basin, focus on generating as much alkalinity as possible, but when that treated water hits the mainstem, pH elevates and the aluminum re-dissolves and limits aquatic life in Blackleggs Creek.
We cannot have this happen in our rivers.
In general, we must focus more on precipitating metals, thereby keeping them out of waterways, and consider discharging slightly acidic or net neutral water in select waterways.
We also must keep educating youth and the public a priority.
In 2017, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown students surveyed 100 people in the City of Johnstown and in its suburbs and found that 51 percent of the respondents viewed the rivers as “dirty.”
While the survey didn’t delve into what made the participants think that, it is concerning that of the 51 percent who felt that way, 59 percent were between the ages of 18 and 30!
Undoubtedly, this perception and accessibility issues keep potential users away from our rivers and streams, which prevents a personal connection to our water resources from being formed, so we must work to publicize our restoration efforts, the state of the watershed, and what may be found in and around our streams and let people know the rivers are open!
Pennsylvanians should be proud of the accomplishments of its environmental organizations and agencies.
Together we should support legislation that protects this work and contribute time, resources, and talents to  these organizations to ensure efforts continue. Preserving and enhancing our resources is paramount, given the strain our natural resources receive and the ever-increasing interest in outdoor recreation for healthy minds, bodies, and communities.
Click Here for a copy of the executive summary.  Click Here for the full report.
For more information on programs, initiatives, upcoming events and how you can help, visit the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy or contact Melissa Reckner, Kiski-Conemaugh Stream Team Director, 814-444-2669 or send email to:

Senate Committee Meets March 26 To Consider Bill Adopting The 1984 Oil & Gas Act To Regulate Conventional Drilling

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee is scheduled to meet March 26 to consider Senate Bill 1088 (Hutchinson-R-Venango) re-enacting the 1984 Oil and Gas Act to regulate conventional oil and gas drilling.
Also on the agenda is House Bill 544 (Moul-R-Adams) further providing for liability protection for landowners opening their land for public recreation (House Fiscal Note and summary)
Senate Bill 1088 was introduced on March 20 and has had no hearings.  An identical bill has been introduced in the House-- House Bill 2154 (Causer-R-Forest).
The new Conventional Oil and Gas Act is based on the Oil and Gas Act adopted in 1984.  There are, however, some key differences even from that basic law and current law--
-- Eliminates Protections For Public Resources: Section 305 of the draft omits this language from Section 205 of the 1984 law--
The department shall, on a making a determination on a well permit, consider the impact of the proposed well on public resources to include, but not be limited to, the following:
(1)  Publicly owned parks, forests, game lands and wildlife areas.
(2)  National or State scenic rivers.
(3)  National natural landmarks.
(4)  Habitats of rare and endangered flora and fauna and other critical communities.
(5)  Historical and archaeological sites listed on the federal or State list of historic places.
The conventional oil and gas industry lost a challenge to DEP’s ability to consider impacts on public resources last June before the PA Supreme Court.  This is no doubt an attempt to correct that. Click Here for more.
-- Preempts Local Ordinances: Although Section 902 on preemption of all local ordinances was included in the 1984 Oil and Gas Act and is repeated here, the provisions related to preempting the application of local ordinances regulating land development from applying to conventional oil and gas operations clearly run afoul of the PA Supreme Court’s Robinson Township decision in 2013 based on the Environmental Rights Amendment to the state constitution.
-- Drastically Increases The Threshold For Spill Reporting: New Section 1103 eliminates the requirement to report any spills less than 5 barrels of oil (200 gallons) or 15 barrels of brine (600 gallons) unless the well operator determines there is an immediate threat to public safety, health or the environment. The DEP threshold for reporting now is 5 gallons of a regulated substance, like oil and more than 5 gallons of brine within 24-hour period.
-- Takes Away Authority For DEP To Issue Injection Well Permits: New Section 904 takes away DEP’s present authority to issue its own permit for drilling waste injection wells unless it has primacy under the U.S. EPA Underground Injection Well Program.  DEP has approved permits for 3 injections wells for drilling wastewater in Clearfield,  Elk and Indiana counties.
-- Sets New Standard For Crude Oil Spill Site Cleanup: New Section 1103 sets a new standard for crude oil spill site cleanup from active wells in law for total petroleum hydrocarbons of 10,000 mg/kg (ppm) and substitutes something called "established field practices" for cleaning up a spill rather than the methods used in the PA Land Recycling Program. The number comes from EPA’s standard for cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells where no responsible party is found.  The PA Land Recycling Program does not have a total petroleum hydrocarbon standard because it is too imprecise. Instead, standards are set for benzene, toluene , ethylbenzene and xylene.
-- Allows For Warnings For Violations: New Section 711 establishes a new enforcement practice of issuing warnings for violations that pose no material harm to public health or the environment, rather than just having DEP issue notices of violations to “alleviate the unwarranted use of notices of violation for minor violations.”  The warnings will be issued were compliance can be accomplished within 48 hours and cannot be used as a basis for a civil penalty when compliance is achieved.
Click Here for a more complete summary of the changes the bill would make and the reasons the sponsors gave for introducing it.
Sen. Hutchinson was responsible for killing DEP’s update to the conventional drilling regulations in 2016.  The 2016 law created a Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Advisory Council was supposed to advise DEP on starting a new set of updates to conventional drilling regulations, but so far has done little on that issue.
The meeting will be called off the Floor of the Senate at some point Monday and held in the Rules Room.  Because this meeting is in the Rules Room, it will not be available online.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3280 or sending email to:   Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7105 or sending email to:
Related Stories:

March 23 Take Five Fridays With PA Now Available From PA Parks & Forests Foundtation

The March 23 Take Five Fridays With Pam is now available from the PA Parks and Forests Foundation.  For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Parks & Forests Foundation website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Foundation,  Like them on Facebook or Follow them on Twitter.  Click Here to become a member of the Foundation.
(Photo: Sunrise at Presque Isle State Park, Erie County by Bruce Berchtold.)

DEP To Issue Emergency Contract To Repair Road Damaged By Flow Of Mine Drainage In Cambria County

The Department of Environmental Protection Friday announced it has authorized an emergency contract to stabilize and repair River Drive in Patton Borough, Cambria County, which was damaged by a large unforeseen flow of mine drainage on February 21.
The flow of mine water from the former Patton Clay Manufacturing Company No. 1 Mine damaged an existing mine drainage conveyance tunnel under River Road. The damage was significant enough to cause a large hole in the road surface.
The Borough of Patton closed the roadway, but the site poses a danger to trespassers and adds a seven-mile detour for residents and emergency vehicles.
The emergency contracting authorization allows DEP to immediately gather estimates, choose the most qualified bidder to begin the work to restore the drain, backfill the hole and repair the roadway.
DEP expects work will begin in April and will take about two weeks to complete.
Without DEP’s emergency contract the burden of addressing the problem would have fallen to Patton Borough and any affected property owners, or the project would have taken at least eight months longer if the department added this to its queue of existing projects.
“Because the site conditions pose a safety threat and the road closure could add precious minutes to emergency response time, we are prioritizing this project for immediate repair,” said Eric Cavazza, P.E. Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation Director.
The original mine drainage structure was constructed in the 1920s and the Upper Kittanning Coal Seam was mined prior to 1936. The mine drainage conveyance tunnel directs mine drainage from the No. 1 Mine and storm water under the roadway.
Questions should be directed to Lauren Fraley, DEP Southwest Regional Office, 412-442-4203 or send email to:

DEP Posts 58 Pages Of Permit Action Notices In March 24 PA Bulletin

The Department of Environmental Protection published 58 pages of public notices related to proposed and final permit and approval/ disapproval actions in the March 24 PA Bulletin - pages 1723 to 1781.
Did you know DEP can send you email notices of permit applications submitted in your community?  Notice of new technical guidance documents and regulations? All through its eNotice system. Click Here to sign up.

DEP To Hold April 25 Hearing On Water Quality Permit For Brunner Island Power Plant, York County

The Department of Environmental Protection published notice in the March 24 PA Bulletin of an April 25 public hearing on the proposed NPDES permit for the Brunner Island Power Station that is switching from coal to natural gas in East Manchester Township, York County. (PA Bulletin page 1779)
The hearing will be held at the Union Fire Company, 201 York Street, Manchester starting at 6:30 and ending at 8:30.
Those who wish to present testimony are asked to register in advance by contacting John Repetz in the Southcentral Regional Office at 717-705-4904 or  Advanced registration will be taken through the close of business on April 24.
For all the details on submitting written comments, read the full PA Bulletin notice.  (PA Bulletin, page 1779)

April 25 DEP Hearing On Water Quality Permit For Cheswick Power Station, Allegheny County

The Department of Environmental Protection published notice in the March 24 PA Bulletin of an April 25 public hearing on the proposed NPDES Water Quality permit for the 565 MW coal-fired NRG Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale, Allegheny County.  (PA Bulletin, page 1780).
The hearing will be held at the Springdale Jr./Sr. High School Marshall Auditorium, 501 Butler Road, Springdale starting at 6:00 p.m.
Persons wishing to present testimony at the hearing should contact the Department’s Community Relations Coordinator at Lauren Fraley before 12 p.m. on April 24, 2018, at 412-442-4203 or
Appointments may be made to review the Department files on this case by calling the File Review Coordinator at 717-787-8184 (Harrisburg).
For all the details on submitting written comments, read the full PA Bulletin notice.  (PA Bulletin, page 1780)

DEP Invites Comments On Water Quality Permit For 1,000 MW APV Renaissance Natural Gas Power Plant, Greene County

The Department of Environmental Protection published notice in the March 24 PA Bulletin inviting comments on a proposed NPDES Water Quality permit for the 1,000 MW natural gas-fired APV Renaissance Energy Center power plant in Monongahela Township, Greene County.  (PA Bulletin, page 1728)
The facility is to be built on 33 acres that was formerly the coal pile area of the now retired Hatfield Ferry Power Station.
Comments on the application are due April 29 (30 days from the notice).  Individuals interested in reviewing the complete application should contact the DEP File Review Coordinator at 412-442-4000.
For more information contact DEP’s Southwest Regional Office, Regional Clean Water Program Manager, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh.  412-442-4000 and read the entire PA Bulletin notice (PA Bulletin, page 1728)

PUC Invites Comments On Proposal To Enhance Consumer Information About Electricity Shopping

The Public Utility Commission published notice in the March 24 PA Bulletin seeking public comment on proposed amendments to regulations for retail electricity service.
The Commission voted 5-0 on December 7, 2017 to adopt proposed changes to Chapter 54 of the Public Utility Code regarding customer information, including disclosure statements for residential and small business customers.  
These changes, initiated by the PUC’s Office of Competitive Market Oversight, are intended to provide customers with accurate, timely pricing information when they are shopping for electric generation suppliers (EGSs).
“The retail electric market continues to evolve, and as this happens so must Commission regulations evolve,” noted PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown in a statement at Thursday’s public meeting.
Vice Chairman Andrew G. Place also offered a statement regarding the proposed rulemaking, stressing the importance of input in the process.
“I want to emphasize that this is a proposed rulemaking, and actively encourage parties to provide comments to assist the Commission in providing the necessary guidance and rules to ensure that customers are fully informed regarding the purchase of electricity, including the associated contract terms and conditions,” Commissioner Place said.
Public comments are being sought on several proposals, including:
-- A ban on early termination fees once an EGS has provided the customer with an initial contract renewal notice;
-- Requirements that EGSs display their prices in a format that allows for easier price-comparisons;
-- Requirements that any introductory pricing be clearly identified and explained to the customer, and disclose both the introductory price and the price after the introductory period expires;
-- Requirements to provide more information about variable prices;
-- Use of common, consistent terminology by EGSs in their customer communications, including marketing, billing and disclosure statements; and
-- Simplifying the format of customer contract summaries that customers receive with their full EGS disclosure statement.
Interested parties may submit comments up to 60 days from the date the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin (May 23) by providing written comments to the Public Utility Commission, Attn: Secretary, P.O. Box 3265, Harrisburg, PA  17105-3265.
Comments may also be filed electronically through the PUC’s e-File System.  Docket No.: L-2017-2628991.
Click Here for a copy of the proposed rule.

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner