New report will help leaders improve Little Sewickley Creek watershed

Thursday, October 4, 2018 | 7:33 AM


A good portion of the Sewickley Valley is in the Little Sewickley Creek watershed.

Protecting, preserving and improving the areas in the watershed is the aim of the Little Sewickley Creek Watershed Association and a recent professional assessment of the watershed is another step toward those goals.

The assessment was initially done by association members, looking at things like water quality and biodiversity. Then the association sent its findings to the firm Civil and Environmental Consultants for analysis.

The firm presented its report to local leaders on Sept. 26.

In addition to providing a picture of the watershed’s overall health, the report contained recommendations for dealing with physical, chemical and biological issues. It also included a list of funding sources for future restoration projects, according to watershed association board member Diane Abell.

“Because the assessment documented that the underlying physical characteristics of the streams in the watershed are functioning at optimal and sub-optimal levels, there is an opportunity to further study water quality, which has historically had higher-than-expected levels of sodium and chloride,” CEC Project Manager David Quatchak said in an email.

CEC suggested some restoration projects, including one that could address bank erosion on the main creek at Walker Park, in Edgeworth. Erosion on the bank closest to the park makes it difficult for people to access the creek, according to association board member April Claus.

“What stream bank restoration would do there is it would essentially regrade that stream bank and probably secure it with tree plantings and access points that would be sustainable,” Claus said.

Another water quality project suggested by CEC includes further analysis of several abandoned gas wells. Claus said there is one area where gas was bubbling through bedrock at the bottom of a stream. The 38 volunteers who assessed the watershed still don’t know whether that gas is natural or man-made, Claus said.

Abell, of Bell Acres, mentioned the possibility of forging closer partnerships with the municipalities in the watershed, to address stormwater runoff. The state and county require local governments to control the amount of stormwater that comes off of roads and other hard surfaces.

“This would be a place for the watershed association to work with the municipalities to help them meet their requirements and to help us get less stormwater and less pollution into the creek,” Abell said.

Claus and Abell explained different opportunities to educate homeowners in the watershed on issues like fertilizer erosion and flood prevention.

“That was another recommendation in (CEC’s report), just making homeowners and residents that do live along the creek aware of what they can do, on a personal level,” Claus said.

According to Abell, the sheer breadth of data gathered by the volunteers who assessed the stream meant that CEC had to spend an extra two months creating a final report.

Volunteers took around 2,700 photos, capturing 26 miles of stream in the watershed, Claus said.

Although they now have a final report, LSCWA board members explained that this is just the beginning. ACCD and the Colcom Foundation may have financed the initial watershed assessment, but many restoration efforts will require additional funding, and no project has a set start date.

“All of these (efforts) are proposed with the idea of providing the watershed association with a long-term list of projects that are designed to improve the overall health of the watershed in a consistent, coordinated effort. The watershed association has clearly demonstrated over the past 50 years that they are both committed and capable of that kind of approach,” Quatchak said.

Sam Bojarski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.