If you’re not worried about water pollution you should be.

Failing to cleanup and protect water resources leads to drinking water contamination, habitat degradation and beach closures. It affects the quality and quantity of wildlife and it also forces communities to pay huge amounts to make contaminated water drinkable.

In order to protect fisheries, groundwater and surface water quality and quantity, the highest priority should be protecting and restoring forested wetlands and riparian buffers.

Knowing more about your local water sources and participating in municipal, county, state, and federal land use decisions within your watershed are ways you can help. Understanding how water is captured, stored and released, what condition it’s in, and where you are located within your watershed can unlock many mysteries of stream flows, runoff, and water quality and habitat conditions.

This week’s watershed exploration takes us to Elk Creek. According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat commission, Elk Creek is the most popular steelhead tributary in Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie watershed. It is stocked with steelhead and brown trout and is an approved trout water stream that is heavily fished early in the regular trout season. During the summer and fall, the lower reaches of Elk hold bass, panfish and catfish. By June most parts of the creek are low and too warm for trout.

Elk Creek and the smaller tributaries that feed it drain water from 99.4 square miles of land shared by the municipalities of Elk Creek, Fairview, Franklin, Girard, Lake City, McKean, Platea, Summit, Washington, and Waterford. This water empties into Lake Erie just west of Lake City in Girard Township.

Its exceptional size, its biotic diversity and value, and the number and diversity of access points rank this subwatershed as one of the area’s most valuable recreational resources. The very large number of unpaved roads and potential non-motorized trails offer excellent potential for low risk recreational access to some of the region’s most scenic and naturally rich areas.

Stream surveys conducted at 56 sites in the watershed by Pennsylvania Sea Grant gave Elk Creek an overall score of 10 on a scale of 1 to 36 (lower numbers = better scores).  However this watershed is vulnerable to commercial and residential development that could compromise the quality and quantity of surface and groundwater resources.

Many of the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes and groundwater are severely polluted by human activities. Contaminants come from a variety of sources including:  factory farm waste, pesticides, fertilizer and sediment; sewage and urban runoff; industrial chemicals; energy extraction and production; water treatment and distribution byproducts; pharmaceuticals and personal care products, and natural processes that produce more contamination as a result of development and deforestation. Many of our water resources lack basic protections against this pollution. Each year 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, stormwater, and industrial waste are dumped into U.S. waters, but no one is keeping track of many of the contaminants.

So get involved. Attend your local zoning board and municipal meetings to find out about any plans for future land use. Be sure your municipality has plans to collaborate on protecting and restoring your watershed before it suffers the same fate as other Lake Erie tributaries. After all water protection is a shared effort.

For more information on fish and habitat evaluations on this and other Lake Erie tributaries, visit http://pib.psu.edu/.

Issue Publication Date: 
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

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