Although every county has some degree of ‘impaired’ water according to the 2022 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Report, Greene County is faring better than surrounding counties due largely to efforts by the Conservation District of Greene County.
The 2022 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Report was released last week and provided information regarding water quality from the 67 counties within Pennsylvania. According to the report, “Pennsylvania is a water-rich state with approximately 85,500 miles of rivers and streams connecting over 2,000,000 acres of lakes, bays, and wetlands. Protection of these waters and the groundwater below is a challenging but vital mission.”
The DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) is tasked with assessing water uses per 25 Pa. Code § 93.3. Assessment, according to the DEP, falls into three general categories: “attaining, impaired, or unassessed. For example, a body of water is considered ‘impaired’ if it fails to meet one or more water quality standards.”
The report noted that leading sources for stream impairment included fishing, recreation, acid mine drainage, urban/highway runoff, and according to Greene County Watershed Specialist Jared Zinn, water quality’s biggest culprit is agriculture, which accounts for nearly three quarters of ground use in Greene County.
“The number one cause of impairment statewide, and it also holds true here in Greene County, is still agriculture,” Zinn explained. “So, that’s basically sediment loads coming into a stream. When you start seeing heavily eroded stream banks, when you start seeing bare ground in fields every time you have a rainstorm, all that washes into the stream and that can negatively affect your aquatic communities in a couple of ways, probably one of the easiest things to look at are your fish.”
Zinn described how the sediment irritates the fragile gills in the fish, kills aquatic insects, and disturbs fish eggs which prefer rocky stream beds to muddy ones.
According to the report, Greene County has 1,391 of 1,396 miles of streams accessed, with 15.5% impaired compared to 26.4% impaired in Fayette, 66.8% in Allegheny, and 34.2% in Washington counties.
Conservation District Director Lisa Snider said much of this can be attributed to informational and outreach efforts made by the district to local landowners.
“They [officials] provide a lot of technical assistance in helping people comply with laws that are set up to keep our water clean and our soils healthy,” Snider said. “We monitor logging sites, and we also do permitting for landowners that are maybe wanting to work in or near a stream.”
The Conservation District also held workshops last fall informing interested farmers of practices to isolate nutrients and sediments from waste and manure. Zinn said 65 farmers tuned in.
“We’re one of the only counties in the state that offers our own in-house farming program,” Snider explained. “We assist with line fertilizer, fencing, watering development, and any other type of agricultural practice.”
The Conservation District utilizes their Act 13 funds, which are “gas well impact fees to counties, municipalities and commonwealth agencies,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s website, for further projects to stabilize water and groundwater, Snider said.
“Instead of buying paper, or paying for staff, things like that, we actually put it on the ground where it’s needed,” Snider said.
One of the projects Snider mentioned is the Brown’s Creek watershed project costing $204,000 to stabilize 2,000 feet of eroded stream bank. Their next project will be a $111,000 development of the Pumpkin Run watershed.
Zinn and Snider both agreed that in recent years there has been a decline in community involvement regarding water quality, and they hope for more.
“We’re seeing it across the state when I talked to other watershed specialists,” Zinn said. “That has really been a challenge to try to overcome because no one is really better equipped to address the water quality in your community. You live there, you know the conditions, you have the most concern for it.”
Snider desires community members to acknowledge the environment and to care for it. She said some simple measures to keep topsoil from running into streams are covering your mulch and garden during winter months, and to get grass growing in dead spots.
“It’s interesting to see photographs of Pittsburgh where you can see the mud in the Monongahela river,” Snider said. “Every time I see that, I think, that’s soil that should be in Greene and Washington counties that has gotten washed away and can no longer be used for crop production.”