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Schuylkill Watershed Source Water Protection

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Schuylkill Action Network – A Watershed Source Water Protection Program

PENNSYLVANIA: Schuylkill WatershedSchuylkillwaters.org


Background

In the past 30 years, the health of the river and its tributaries has changed dramatically. While dissolved oxygen has increased due largely to the Clean Water Act, a variety of land activities have degraded the streams in the watershed. Major contributors include agricultural practices, storm water runoff, sewage overflows, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), and abandoned mine drainage. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in their 2004 Section 303d list and Section 305b Report of Water Quality listed approximately 900 miles of streams in the watershed as impaired for aquatic life use. The primary sources of these impairments were stormwater runoff, inappropriate agricultural practices and abandoned mine drainage. The structure of the technical workgroups was organized to address these issues.

Location: The Schuylkill River Watershed is located in southeast Pennsylvania and includes parts of 11 counties. The river travels approximately 130 miles from its headwaters at Tuscarora Springs in Schuylkill County to its mouth at the Delaware River in Philadelphia. The Schuylkill River is the largest tributary to the Delaware River and is a major contributor to the Delaware Estuary. The river's watershed encompasses an area of approximately 2,000 square miles. The Schuylkill watershed provides habitats for a variety of warm water, cold water, and migratory fish. Numerous dams block fish passage throughout the watershed. One-quarter of the Schuylkill watershed has been designated as "High Quality/Exceptional Value" by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. About one-third of the watershed is listed as impaired for aquatic life use. The mainstem of the Schuylkill was the first scenic river designated under the Pennsylvania Scenic Rivers Act (in 1978).

Water Supply: The Schuylkill River has been an important source of drinking water in the region for over two centuries. Over 1.5 million people receive their drinking water from the Schuylkill River and its tributaries including the cities of Philadelphia, Phoenixville, Pottstown, and Reading.

Source Water Assessment: Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) conducted the Source Water Assessment for the Schuylkill River.

Source Water Protection: This plan is executed by the Schuylkill Action Network. PWD identified the entire Schuylkill River watershed as its source water but because it lacked authority to address the major threats, the PWD solicited help from the USEPA to develop a Source Water Protection Plan.


Priority Contamination Threats

The priority contamination threats come from stormwater runoff, inappropriate agricultural practices and abandoned mine drainage. Other threats include sewage overflows and unplanned spills from industries.


Local Team and Developing the Protection Plan

In the spring of 2003, the USEPA convened the Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) as a pilot project for stakeholders developing and implementing multijurisdictional source water protection strategies. It is composed of 250 members from about 70 different organizations which include governmental agencies (federal, state, and local), non-profit groups, industries, water suppliers, and private citizens. The SAN organization structure includes an Executive Steering Committee, a Planning Committee, five technical workgroups (Abandoned Mine Drainage, Agriculture, Pathogen/Compliance, Stormwater, and Land Use), and support teams for education/outreach, data, and monitoring.

SAN’s structure facilitates the implementation of a grassroots action plan. In addition to a Steering Committee and a Planning Committee staffed by USEPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), PWD, and the Delaware River Basin Commission, four workgroups craft solutions for each of the four primary threats to source water (agricultural runoff, acid mine drainage, pathogen/compliance issues, and stormwater runoff). Two other teams include a Data Team and an Education/Outreach Team.


Management Measures

PWD, with input from others including USEPA and PADEP, compiles information on water quality, stream impairment, land use, source activities, funding, and protection activities to prioritize areas for restoration and protection. The workgroups have established discreet objectives and tasks to mitigate the threats for which they are responsible.

The goals of the SAN are as follows:

Improved Watershed Health Restoration of all impaired stream miles to attain their designated uses;

Improved Public Value Significant improvement in public perception of the Schuylkill River as a vital regional natural resource that should be protected; A return to the river by the public for the purpose of recreation, sport and enjoyment;

Safer Drinking Water/Reduced Need for Treatment Reduction in annual pollutant loadings to source water due to source water protection efforts;

Reduced Treatment Cost Through Improved Source Water Quality Costs to implement the action plan are covered by a number of sources, including a $1.15 million Targeted Watershed Implementation Grant from EPA for work on 36 restoration projects and $200,000 from PADEP’s Growing Greener program for the Pine Knot-Oak Discharge Tunnel.


Other progress to date includes the following actions:

• Helped establish the Exelon Restoration Fund for the Schuylkill River (about $150,000 annually);

• Installed over 32,000 feet of streambank fencing, over 6,000 feet of streamside plantings, and 13 cattle crossings and alleyways;

• Completed conservation plans for 10 farms;

• Prioritized all unprotected lands in the watershed based on their value to habitat and drinking water protection. Results are available at http://www.schuylkillprioritylands.org/;

• Received $95,000 grant from Pennsylvania to prioritize land preservation areas based on habitat and drinking water use protection;

• Held forums on source water protection, proper operation and maintenance of sewage collection systems;

• Led 3 workshops on watershed education;

• Installed three abandoned mine treatment systems to reduce aluminum, iron, and manganese and improve pH;

• Sampled downstream of 72 wastewater treatment plants throughout the watershed for Cryptosporidium;

• Created a manual providing guidance on simple techniques that can be implemented by students, teachers, and maintenance personnel to improve stormwater management on campuses; and

• Received grant funding to develop the SAN website into a powerful communications tool for SAN members.


Contingency Planning

In response to the events of September 11, 2001, PWD received a grant from EPA to develop new security measures for its water supply. In 2004, PWD deployed the Delaware Valley Early Warning System (EWS), an integrated monitoring, communication and notification system used to provide water suppliers and industrial intake operators with advanced warning of water quality events in the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. The EWS includes a partnership of water suppliers, industrial intake operators and emergency responders from agencies, utilities and industries throughout the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. More than half of the water suppliers that participate in SAN are active in the EWS.

Through the telephone and internet-based notification systems, EWS users receive valuable information about upstream oil and chemical spills, sewage discharges, dam breeches and other water quality events. When a notification is entered into the system, a time of travel model is generated to indicate the time at which an event will reach downstream intakes. Together with a real-time monitoring network these tools allow water suppliers and industrial intake operators to determine the extent and severity of an event in order to respond promptly and appropriately.

The Philly RiverCast system was deployed in July of 2005 a public spin-off of the EWS utilizing data from the real-time monitoring network to predict the suitability of the Schuylkill River for recreational contact between Fairmount Dam and Flatrock Dam. The RiverCast website (www.phillyrivercast.org) provides recreational users with a red, yellow, or green light for recreational contact based on state and federal fecal coliform standards for recreational contact. Real-time turbidity, streamflow and precipitation data from the EWS are used to predict fecal coliform concentrations based on historical relationships observed among these parameters. The website has been visited over 140,000 times since deployment and has been used as a decision support tool for major recreation events such as triathlons and regattas.


Measuring Program Effectiveness

Success is measured in many ways. About 40 different projects were funded under the $1.15M Targeted Watershed Implementation Grant. Other successes are: installation of BMPs, monitoring (before & after studies), and state assessments. Each year the SAN documents its successes in an annual Progress Report. The 2008 progress report is posted on the website at www.schuylkillactionnetwork.org.


For further information, contact:

Paula Conolly

Philadelphia Water Department, Office of Watersheds

Source Water Program

1101 Market Street, 4th Floor

Philadelphia, PA 19107

Phone: (215) 208.3589

Fax: (215)685.6043

E-mail: paula.conolly@phila.gov


Chuck Kanetsky

Source Water Protection Team Leader

U. S. EPA Region III

Drinking Water Branch (3WP22)

1650 Arch Street

Philadelphia, PA 19103-2029

Phone: (215) 814-2735

Fax: (215) 814-2318

E-mail: kanetsky.charles@epa.gov

Or, visit the webpage at http://schuylkillactionnetwork.org

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