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Group 2 Delaware River Watershed Initiative

Locations

Middle Schuylkill

The Schuylkill River that flows through this cluster is the Delaware River’s largest tributary.

The Middle Schuylkill Cluster covers more than 500,000 acres and includes much of Pennsylvania’s Berks and Montgomery Counties and parts of Bucks, Lebanon and Lehigh Counties. It encompasses portions of the Schuylkill’s largest tributaries—Perkiomen Creek, Maiden Creek and Tulpehocken Creek—as well as Manatawny Creek and Monocacy Creek.

Historically, this region was the “bread basket” of colonial America because it contains some of the basin’s most fertile farmland, and many of its communities are still tied to the land for this reason. These five sub-watersheds are primarily rural, with 77 percent of the lands in farms or forests. Farmers use the land for row crops, pastures, dairy cattle and other livestock.

Forests are associated with well-known highlands in the region, including the Oley and Unami Hills, Kittatinny Ridge and South Mountain. Reading and Pottstown are the biggest urban centers, though the cluster organizations have excluded much of the most-heavily developed areas to maintain focus on agricultural issues.

Drinking Water Source 350,000 People
Total Area 784 Sq. Mi.
Protected Land 5% Protected

Major Threats

Agricultural Land Use
Agriculture contributes to stream bank erosion, nutrient loading, excessive sedimentation, and the flushing of pesticides and veterinary pharmaceuticals into waterways. Stream ecosystems have degraded, impairing their ability to self-cleanse.

Urbanization and Suburbanization
Land conversion and the loss of forested buffers have increased stormwater pollution in the region.

Why it’s Important

The Middle Schuylkill Cluster contains 1,191 miles of streams, including 182 miles of High-Quality and Exceptional-Value streams that drain from the most-heavily forested lands. These important ecological and recreational resources support the greatest diversity of aquatic and terrestrial plant and animal life, and are popular fisheries for wild and stocked trout. The cluster also provides drinking water to more than 350,000 people nearby and downstream in Philadelphia. Regrettably, intense land and water use have so degraded 352 miles (29 percent) of these waterways that they are on Pennsylvania’s list of officially impaired streams. Hundreds of additional stream miles are also measurably degraded.

Agricultural practices and increasing urban and suburban development have caused the poor state of these streams. Many farms lack stream fencing, secure manure storage and plans for erosion control and nutrient management. This leads to erosion, nutrient loading, sedimentation and the presence of pesticides and veterinary pharmaceuticals in the water. Land conversion and the loss of forested buffers have increased stormwater pollution throughout the area.

Assisting farmers to improve environmental stewardship practices has numerous benefits. Among them, the implementation of additional best farming practices will reduce the negative impacts of agriculture on water quality and will also help support and strengthen farms, keeping them productive. The open space agriculture provides is part of the fabric of the region and essential to preserving the sense of place.

What We Can Do

Agriculture, as the dominant land use, generates most of the impairments to Middle Schuylkill streams, in the form of nutrient loading, stormwater pollution and excessive sedimentation. The main goal of this plan is to reduce the environmental stressors associated with agricultural practices through better land and water use, and protection of priority areas. Focus watersheds include parts of Maiden Creek (including Saucony Creek), parts of Tulpehocken Creek (including Licking Creek, Spring Creek and Northkill Creek), Manatawny Creek and Upper Perkiomen Creek (home to the currently impaired Green Lane Reservoir).

Although the primary focus in this cluster is restoration of impaired waters, land conservation also plays a role. Valuable forested reaches and other unique ecological resources represent important protection opportunities. This plan identifies three distinct areas of wooded hills with good water quality: Oley Hills, Western Highlands and Unami Forest. The cluster organizations will:

  • Pursue whole-farm implementation of restoration activities and best management practices in the areas of Saucony Creek and an unnamed tributary of Maiden Creek south of Christman Lake that have undergone considerable restoration, prioritized restoration sites and established monitoring locations.
  • Pilot restoration projects in areas that have a recognized need but require additional work to develop the necessary planning and prioritization, focusing on small stream segments of Licking Creek and an unnamed tributary of Maiden Creek in Albany Township that have the potential to demonstrate improvements from best management practices.
  • Target portions of Northkill Creek, Spring Creek and Manatawny Creek as “incubator” areas where efforts will focus on building local capacity to complete restoration projects, acquire baseline monitoring data and refine implementation targets.
  • Protect 500 acres of important land in the hilly wooded areas, preserving the best water quality in the watershed and safeguarding the significant investments already made in these woodlands.

Monitoring and Measurement

The Initiative will document and assess implementation of the Middle Schuylkill plan in three key areas:

  • In-stream water quality monitoring and assessments
  • Farm-site monitoring and assessments
  • Volunteer monitoring and engagement

Thirteen in-stream monitoring points will be located upstream and/or downstream of completed best management practices, and sampling will focus in the Maiden and Saucony Creeks. The monitoring will include Benthic macro-invertebrates, extensive chemical and fecal coliform monitoring, and visual habitat assessments using state protocols. Initiative organizations will photograph best management practices installed at each farm site, and a trained biologist will monitor the sites at least biannually to assess compliance, vegetation growth and functionality. Local watershed organizations will help develop a volunteer-led water-quality sampling program in the Maiden, Tulpehocken, Manatawny and Upper Perkiomen Creek watersheds.

 

Timeline and Investment

As of January 2014, estimated costs to address agricultural stressors, build constituencies and conserve important lands were nearly $28 million through 2017, including land protection totaling $7.5 million, assistance with agricultural best management practices constituting nearly $19 million, and monitoring, education and outreach activities requiring over $1.5 million. Work began in 2014 with $990,000 in grants from the William Penn Foundation, with additional support through a competitive re-grant fund for restoration.

Total investment needs through 2017: $28 Million