Group awaits report on Little Sewickley Creek Watershed assessment

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 | 5:51 PM

The nonprofit Little Sewickley Creek Watershed Association (LSCWA) has wanted to conduct a full assessment of the 9.6-square-mile Little Sewickley Creek watershed area for several years. But when the state Department of Environmental Protection in 2015 rejected a petition to upgrade the water quality classification of Little Sewickley Creek from High Quality to Exceptional Value, it gave the organization more incentive.

This past May, the watershed completed a thorough assessment of the entire watershed, which includes 26 miles of stream. The project lasted nearly a year and involved 38 volunteers, who identified impairments to water quality, biodiversity and the overall health of the watershed.

“There have been many studies on different parts of this watershed and different parts of the creek for many different reasons, but this was the first time that the entire creek system, all of the main branches and all of the main tributaries were actually walked over step-by-step and assessed,” said Diane Abell, a watershed board member who also volunteered with the project.

Multiple organizations contributed volunteers, including Allegheny County Conservation District (ACCD), Allegheny Land Trust, Fern Hollow Nature Center and Quaker Valley High School. The county conservation district also contributed $10,000 to the effort, while the Colcom Foundation, a charitable organization committed to fostering a sustainable environment, granted $19,100, Abell said.

Precision Laser & Instrument, based in Ambridge, provided free technical support for the GPS units.

Volunteers gathered information, which the watershed then sent to an organization called Civil and Environmental Consultants (CEC) for analysis.

According to Abell, CEC will analyze the data and provide a list of restoration projects, prioritized in order of necessity. The watershed expects to receive a full report by June 30.

April Claus, also a watershed board member, took the lead in sending data to CEC. She said they were “very impressed” and “had never seen a volunteer organization work to this professional level.”

With the GPS units CEC lent for the project, the volunteers documented numerous areas of concern. The group took photographs of everything they entered into the GPS units and ended up taking 2,737 pictures of the watershed and its surrounding ecosystem, according to a press release.

Areas of concern, Claus said, included abandoned gas wells and dams, bank erosion and groups of invasive plants, among other things.

The assessment also found that certain culverts, or pipes that allow a stream to flow under a road, prevent fish from swimming upstream to breed.

In addition to problem areas, volunteers found several spots of natural beauty as they combed through the watershed system. Much of the assessed land was private property, and watershed members had to notify the landowners before surveying the area.

But certain spots on public land, like Waggoner's Hollow, a 96-acre parcel in Sewickley Heights, and the 78-acre Devil's Hollow in Bell Acres, feature beautiful natural waterfalls which most people aren't aware of, Abell said. Although the next steps largely depend on CEC's upcoming report, the watershed already has started working on some lower-cost cleanup efforts. Abell also anticipates working with local municipalities on stormwater management issues in the future.