Reducing runoff and keeping pollutants from reaching the waters of Lake Erie is essential for keeping our drinking water safe.

Runoff from vineyards, farms, roads and parking lots causes erosion and carries chemicals, nutrients and sediment directly into local streams, which empty into Lake Erie. Once in the water, removing these pollutants is cost prohibitive and near impossible. And the costs associated with fixing the damage caused by pollution and flooding is a mammoth economic challenge to communities. Therefore conservation practices that prevent runoff and pollution at the source are the best and least costly way to avert these expensive problems.

Stormwater management is the focus of this week’s coverage of the lands and streams that drain the Twelvemile Creek watershed, which encompasses 33.44 square kilometers or 12.91 square miles from sections of Greenfield, Harborcreek, and North East townships.

Twelvemile Creek is a steelhead fishery that is protected under the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Water Quality Standards as a high quality (HQ) stream for use by cold-water migratory fish (MF) like steelhead. A cold water fishery (CWF) supports fish, plants and animals that best live and reproduce in colder temperatures. HQ waters are defined as having long-term water quality, which exceeds the levels necessary to support the propagation of fish, shellfish, wildlife and recreation. Of Pennsylvania’s 83,000 miles of streams, only about 25% are designated as HQ CWF.

According to DEP Great Lakes Biologist Jim Grazio, the water quality is generally good but Twelvemile is highly reactive to stormwater runoff. A stream habitat evaluation in 2010 led by Pennsylvania Sea Grant surveyed 14 sties along Twelvemile and found the vegetative riparian zone, which serves to control runoff from entering a stream to be marginal. Scouring of the stream channel occurs on a regular basis and sediment from bank erosion and stormwater inputs tend to clog available macroinvertebrate (insect) habitat and also impacts fish habitat.

Managing runoff and pollutants from the land is essential for protecting the chemistry, physical habitat and biology of this stream. And that’s exactly what North East grape farmer Randy Graham, the owner and operator of South Shore Farms and Courtyard Wineries has done. Working through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and with funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) he reduced runoff and the contaminants and sedimentation it carries from entering Twelvemile Creek.

Graham uses conservation practices that minimize soil disturbance and increase the soil’s ability to hold water, which in turn reduces runoff, erosion and flooding. By reducing his use of sprays and chemicals and better managing the amounts and placement of nutrients, he avoids nutrient overload and prevents pollutants from being carried by runoff into the stream.

You too can protect the water that humans, fish and other wildlife need to survive and thrive. Help protect existing natural undeveloped spaces along streams, lakes and reservoirs and restore others that have been removed. Evaluate your use of lawn and other chemicals. Plant native plants, which don’t need added chemicals to keep these toxins out of local waterways. Finally learn more about monitoring your watershed by getting involved in a local watershed group. The Pennsylvania Lake Erie Watershed Association needs a representative for the Twelvemile Creek watershed. For more information contact Sarah Galloway, sgalloway@erie.pa.us or Pat Lupo, plupo@neighborhoodarthouse.org.

Issue Publication Date: 
Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Main Office: Tom Ridge Environmental Center 301 Peninsula Dr., Suite 3 Erie, PA 16505 814-217-9011