What better way to document problems in an important Lake Erie tributary than by walking from its mouth to its headwaters?

That’s the question Ron Lybrook, Environmental Group Manager for the PA DEP Northwest Region asked Pete Schuster.  Eager to help identify sources of stormwater pollution within the Walnut Creek watershed, the DEP intern, agreed to walk the entire 22.6-mile stream. Using ArcGIS, Schuster documented over 100 sites that are contributing to problems in the stream and in Lake Erie, the source of drinking water, swimming and recreation for millions of people.

A lot has changed in the Walnut Creek watershed in less than 40 years. Large tracts of forests, wetlands and farmland have been replaced with impervious surfaces including residential and commercial buildingsmalls, roads and parking lots. Since rain and snow melt can no longer soak into the ground, Shuster noted the evidence of considerable water quality and quantity issues on Walnut Creek and adjacent lands.

He found plenty of sites that suffered because of increased runoff. Lack of riparian buffers to slow down erosion or filter harmful chemicals allows chemicals to wash into the stream from impervious surfaces or residential and industrial properties. There were also plenty of disturbed areas where invasive plants have taken hold, bridge crossings in poor condition, and sediment from land clearing and earth disturbance. He even found road construction debris (asphalt and metal pipes) that was dumped along the stream channel and a large area of semi-truck tires and brake drum assemblies that were dumped in a drainage ditch near I-90.

A yearlong DEP Walnut Creek watershed investigation in 2007, found that land use and human alterations were damaging Walnut Creek, one of the best steelhead fisheries in the Great Lakes region. Since 2009, Lybrook has been working with others at the DEP and with local partners on recommendations made in the Walnut Creek protection and restoration plan. Some projects have been completed including two municipal parks that border the creek, Cassidy Park and a new facility on Zimmerly Road. But much more needs to be done to restore and protect this important source of revenue for the region.

The Walnut Creek watershed drains land from five Erie County municipalities, including Millcreek, Fairview, Summit, McKean and Greene townships. It will take property owners, citizens and elected officials working together to restore the diminished Walnut Creek Watershed and protect the aquatic insect community and prized fish that depend on a healthy ecosystem.

You may not have nine days to walk the length of the stream to see the locations for yourself. Shuster therefore has been working on an online story map so you can follow his footsteps. Coming sometime in May you can see the locations along Walnut Creek that need help to support healthy native plants and animals, improve fish habitat and recreational opportunities.  Projects at these locations can restore the capacity of the natural streamside environment to filter pollutants and to reduce peak flows and potential downstream flooding. To see an example of a story map similar to the one Shuster is working on visit:

http://www.csc.noaa.gov/greatlakes/restoration/. Stay tuned for more information and ideas on how you can help.

Additional information on the Asbury Woods web page.

Issue Publication Date: 
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

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