People often don’t know how fragile their water source is until a major chemical spill or other problem makes it undrinkable.
What about you? Can you name your watershed? Do you know where runoff from your home, street, neighborhood or town drains? Do you know the location of chemical tanks, waste pits, dumps and storm sewers? Are the major land uses industrial, agricultural or urban and are there enough protected green spaces? Does your community have a long-term strategy or laws to test, restore and protect your source of water?
Lake Erie and its tributaries add up to a vital resource that is ultimately connected so becoming familiar with all the PA Lake Erie subwatersheds can help protect your source of drinking water whether it’s groundwater or surface water. The Pennsylvania Lake Erie watershed has 17 named subwatersheds that drain into Lake Erie. Conneaut Creek, Ashtabula Creek and Turkey Creek begin in PA but empty into the lake in Ohio. Twentymile Creek begins in NY but its mouth is in PA. The others lie completely in Pennsylvania.
This week our watershed exploration takes us to the Raccoon Creek subwatershed, located entirely in Springfield Township. If you’ve never been to Raccoon Creek Park in the most distant northwest corner of the state you’re missing one of the most beautiful spots along Lake Erie. Take a tour using the Google maps satellite image to follow Raccoon Creek from its mouth at the park to the headwaters, west of route 6N and north of I-90 near the intersection of Huntley Rd and Griffey Rd just south of Conneaut Creek.
Most of Raccoon Creek runs through wooded lands, and portions run through State Game Lands 314, which extend to the Ohio border. Intact wetlands and riparian buffers and a large protected biodiversity area adjacent to the park make this one of the healthiest streams in the PA Lake Erie watershed. This state game land is a designated Audubon Important Bird Area and is included in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. The mix of forest, scrub-shrub and wetland along the Lake Shore is critical for migratory species. State threatened and endangered flora and fauna are present in this area and federally protected species utilize the habitat during migration.
The most recent survey of Lake Erie tributaries in 2011 by Pennsylvania Sea Grant found that Raccoon Creek had the highest diversity and the highest vegetative zone width. This riparian buffer serves as an important filter to keep pollutants from entering the stream, controls erosion and flooding, and provides important habitat. In stream ranking from best condition (1) to worst condition (36) for total habitat scores Raccoon Creek was ranked 2. Its class was ranked as good to fair.
Threats to be aware of include invasive plants and animals and lack of laws to protect vegetated buffers. Raccoon is one of three PA creeks that are treated with lampricide, a chemical used to kill young invasive sea lampreys before they mature and cause havoc in the Lake. Invasive plants introduced by people or their activities threaten the native and endangered plants. Finally stream buffers like those along Raccoon Creek are not protected from new development.
Why don’t you get involved in protecting this watershed and solving these issues?