Process underway to create new watershed association

Monday, September 9, 2019 | 6:01 AM

More than 10 years ago, a volunteer association existed to protect the Big Sewickley Creek Watershed. Allegheny Land Trust (ALT) and local partners are now trying to revive it.

ALT is working on a Rivers Conservation and Stewardship Plan, designed to produce a better understanding of the Big Sewickley Creek Watershed’s natural assets, and identify threats to the region. Community input is an important part of this process, and one goal of the plan involves assembling a dedicated group of volunteers to become stewards of the watershed.

Along with consultants from Pashek + MTR and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, ALT will hold a public meeting Tuesday at the Economy Borough Volunteer Fire Department. During the meeting, ALT hopes to generate more interest in the formation of a Big Sewickley Creek Watershed Association, said Lindsay Dill, marketing communications director for the nonprofit.

Community members have responded favorably to the idea.

“Those that have found the project have been very supportive and given positive feedback on our efforts,” said Alyson Fearon, community conservation director for ALT. “We have actually had some engaged local residents, especially in the lower watershed that experiences more flooding.”

The Sewickley Valley region already has a vibrant watershed association that has existed since 1972.

“What watershed associations do is (they) are stewards of the whole land area,” said Marisa Tobias, board president of the nonprofit Little Sewickley Creek Watershed Association (LSCWA). “Everybody understands the stream. They don’t necessarily understand the concept of a watershed and how that contributes to the stream, so our job is to protect that and to educate people.”

The Little Sewickley Creek watershed spans about 9.5 square miles. Like the Big Sewickley Creek watershed, local residents use its woodland areas for fishing, hiking, horseback riding and other outdoor activities.

LSCWA’s priorities include education, environmental stewardship and raising public awareness, said Tobias. In keeping with these goals, the all-volunteer organization has annual internships available for high school and college students.

In the high school internship, Quaker Valley students study fish populations, test water chemistry and participate in trash cleanups, said April Claus, an LSCWA board member who leads the internship program.

Residents can report environmental issues to LSCWA. Years ago, during construction at Bouchard Family Park in Bell Acres, a community member reported water runoff issues that threatened Little Sewickley Creek.

LSCWA worked with Quaker Valley Recreation Association (QVRA) and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to help correct soil erosion, which could adversely impact oxygen levels in the water, said Tobias.

The organization helped publicize the 2018 and 2019 tree plantings at the site and provided volunteers.

“Regulatory agencies, they can’t be everywhere all the time, so we made sure that they knew about it and made sure that they were requiring (QVRA) to correct the problem,” Tobias said.

In spring 2018, nearly 40 volunteers helped LSCWA complete an assessment that identified impairments to the health of the entire watershed area, Trib Total Media reported. According to Tobias, LSCWA is now identifying ways to restore some of the areas that need improvement.

Over the course of several decades, the Little Sewickley Creek Watershed has remained a valuable asset to the community. Tobias said she believes LSCWA’s efforts have played a role in maintaining the region’s character.

“Little Sewickley Creek is still such a high quality stream and is so highly valued by people in this area, and I like to think that the Little Sewickley Creek Watershed Association has had something to do with that all these years,” she said.

The Big Sewickley Creek Watershed spans an even larger, 46-square-mile region that touches 12 municipalities and three counties. A revived watershed association can help preserve this region, too, for years to come.

“Having a watershed association would ensure the health of the watershed over the long term, Dill said.

Roy Kraynyk, vice president of land protection and capital projects for ALT, said a Big Sewickley Creek Watershed association would “give voice to the watershed and the issues, good and bad, that exist there. Also once the plan is done, the watershed association would have access to funding to implement plan recommendations.”

To learn more or get involved in Big Sewickley Creek Watershed planning efforts, visit https:// watershed/.