In 2016, the Allegheny County Conservation District (ACCD) received a Growing Greener Grant from the Pennsylvania DEP to assess the Montour Run Watershed and develop a Watershed Plan for future treatment and maintenance. This is a grant geared toward “address[ing] Pennsylvania's critical environmental concerns of the 21st century,” including cleaning up abandoned mines and the affected watersheds. As it would happen, in February 2018, the Montour Run watershed began experiencing elevated levels of abandoned mine drainage (AMD). With this grant, the watershed team has been able to collect data on water quality and macroinvertebrate populations, and begin assessing the damage caused by the AMD.
In November 2017, the ACCD Watershed Specialist collected 8 bottom-of-the-stream samples to search through for macros, and then collected samples from the same stream sites 6 months later in May 2018. With the help of a Student Conservation Association Sustainability Fellow, 3,597 organisms were found in those 16 samples! These 16 samples will serve as the baseline data for further macroinvertebrate collections. Although the diversity seems high in both the November and the May samples, it is hard to glean much information from these samples because we have no previous data on population sizes or diversity of these organisms.
These macroinvertebrates will be affected by the AMD in the streams. The remaining questions? How much will they be affected and in what ways? Will the populations of some organisms decrease, while others increase? It’s possible! Some, like black fly larvae and certain clams, can survive in very polluted waters, but others (think stonefly and mayfly) can only survive in clean waters. Is it also possible that all populations will decrease? Unfortunately, that’s also a yes if the stream is too polluted to sustain life. More assessment is needed.
So can we do anything about it right now? Well, first we need to find out how much water quality and populations are being impacted, and what specifically is doing the “impacting.” After that, remediation tactics can be installed, but those take time and money! The best way to help in the short term is to not make the problem worse. Try planting trees and shrubs along the banks, don’t dump anything down storm drains (remember, it drains right to the streams!), or join your local watershed group to help them make an impact.
For information on getting involved in the Montour Run Watershed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The Montour Run Watershed Association always welcomes more support.
E. Wise, SCA Sustainability Fellow