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For comparison, when the Harpers gauge at our launch @ 1929 Blacks Bridge Road, Annville reads the following heights:

5.5’, the Road to site #1 is almost covered, not             accessible and partly flooded;  


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9’ the swell puts water onto sites 1-4 & site 8; and


10.56', only sites 26-35 do not flood. 

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Chapter 4 : Water Resources

Click below to view the section you would like to read, or scroll down to read all of Chapter 4.

A.  Major Tributaries
B.  Wetlands
C.  Floodplains
D.  Lakes and Ponds
E.  Water Quality
     1.  General Watershed Characteristics
     2.  General Water Quality Trends
     3.  Abandoned Mine Drainage
     4.  Aquatic Life and Habitat
F.  Water Supply
     1.  Effluent Discharge
     2.  Water Use

A. Major Tributaries

Although the main stem of Swatara Creek receives drainage from over 25 tributaries (Table 4-1, Figure 4-1), seven major tributaries (> 20 mi 2 drainage area) account for over 319 mi 2 (55%) of the total drainage area. Located in the headwater region of the watershed, the Upper Little Swatara Creek and Lower Little Swatara Creek are situated in Schuylkill County. These two tributaries, which account for approximately 70 mi 2 of headwater drainage area, have historically been under the influence of some of the most significant abandoned mine drainage (AMD) in the watershed. Some 20 miles downstream Swatara’s largest tributary, Little Swatara Creek, winds through the agricultural and developed regions of Berks and Lebanon Counties before its confluence with Swatara Creek near Jonestown. Situated within the Ridge and Valley physiographic province, the shale and slate valleys surrounding Little Swatara characterize this tributary as a poorly buffered system. Although known for its excellent aquatic habitat, Little Swatara suffers from poor water quality as a result of high metals and nutrient concentrations (Traver, 1997).

Also located within the developed regions of Lebanon County near Annville and Lebanon, Swatara’s second largest tributary, Quittapahilla Creek, is more heavily influenced by the effects of surrounding agriculture. As a result of this land use, Traver (1997) describes the biological condition of the Quittapahilla as moderately impaired. Water chemistry indicates excessive amounts of dissolved residuals, nitrogen and nitrates, phosphorus, and iron.

The remaining tributaries, Manada Creek, Spring Creek, and Beaver Creek, occupy the lower watershed near Hershey in Dauphin County. Cumulatively, these systems account for nearly 15% of Swatara’s total drainage area. Beaver and Spring Creeks occupy the limestone and dolomite valleys of the Central Appalachian ecoregion while Manada Creek is situated in the shale and slate valleys of the Ridge and Valley ecoregion. Although all three streams have been described as offering supporting to excellent aquatic habitat, chemical analysis indicated fair to poor conditions that was reflected in a macroinvertebrate community, which was moderately impaired with a low species diversity and trophic structure (Traver, 1997).

The water quality, aquatic habitat, and biological condition associated with each of these systems is discussed in greater detail under the Water Quality subsection.

Table 4-1

Major Tributaries to Swatara Creek1


Drainage Area (mi2)

PA DEP Water Use2

River Mile

Panther Creek




Middle Creek




Black Creek




Lower Rausch Creek




Adams Run




Upper Little Swatara Creek




Lower Little Swatara




Swope Valley Run




Mill Creek




Bear Hole Run




Trout Run




Monroe Creek




Forge Creek




Oil Creek




Red Run




Little Swatara Creek




Reeds Creek




Indiantown Run




Quittapahilla Creek




Bow Creek




Manada Creek




Spring Creek




Kellock Run




Beaver Creek




Iron Run




1 Contributory drainage > 1 mi

2 PADEP Chapter 93 Water Quality Standards abbreviations are:  WWF - Warm Water Fisheries, CWF - Cold Water Fisheries, TSF - Trout Stocked Fisheries, HQ - High Quality Waters, EV - Exceptional Value Waters


Source: Pennsylvania Gazetteer of Streams by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in cooperation with the United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey, 1989, Harrisburg: Author.

Photo 4-1: Channelization and agricultural encroachment located along the floodplain of Snitz Creek in Lebanon County.

Undisturbed floodplains and riparian zones serve a variety of ecological functions including the retention and gradual release of surface and groundwater; the vegetative stabilization of stream banks, the filtering of sediments and toxicants from surrounding uplands; and supply food sources, cover, and thermal protection.

B. Wetlands

Wetlands occupying the Swatara Creek watershed study corridor were identified through a review of National Wetlands Inventory (NWI).

Wetlands can be defined as transitional areas between terrestrial and aquatic environments where the water table often exists at or near the surface, or the land is inundated by water (Cowardin, Carter, Golet, LaRoe, 1979). As such, wetlands frequently exhibit a combination of physical and biological characteristics of each system. Three factors are recognized as criteria for wetland classification: the presence of hydric soils (soils characteristic of a reducing environment due to lack of oxygen); inundation or saturated conditions during part of the growing season; and a dominance of hydrophytic (water-loving) vegetation (Environmental Laboratory, 1987). Within this general framework, many different wetland ecosystems and classifications exist.

C. Floodplains

The greatest threat to floodplains within the Swatara Creek watershed) consists of encroachments by agricultural and urban development. As discussed in the Water Quality section, nitrogen enrichment throughout the central basin and urban effluents in the lower watershed constitute two of the three major non-point pollution source regimes. One of the reasons for this is development within and adjacent to floodplain and riparian zones.

Photos 4-2 and 4-3: Examples of well-developed riparian zone along Swatara’s main stem at Jonestown in Lebanon County and along Mill Creek downstream from the Lebanon Reservoir in Schuylkill County.

When encroachments occur, the buffering capacity of these regions is compromised. The result is increased pollutant runoff into streams, bank erosion and slips, inability to detain and gradually release floodwaters, and extreme alterations in channel morphology. Although an increase in runoff pollutants has a significant effect on the biological health of the stream ecosystem, it is the destruction of riparian habitat which has the greatest influence. In fact, except in extreme cases of contamination by various chemical species, such as those found in AMD, degradation of floodplain and riparian habitat by agricultural and urban land uses within the Swatara Creek watershed has the greatest influence on aquatic fauna.

Photo 4-4: Livestock access along Earlakill Run in Lebanon County is a major cause of streambank erosion, i ncreased turbidity and sedimentation, and nutrient loading.

Encroachments by residential developments are also responsible for impacts to the floodplain. Future development and land use plans should be coordinated with the FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program to determine floodplain and special flood hazard areas within the corridor.

Flood management and insurance rates are coordinated through the National Flood Insurance Program. This program, which was established by the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 and the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973, was an effort to reduce the damage and hazards associated with flood events. To accomplish these goals, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), conducts routine flood insurance studies that investigate the severity and existence of flood hazards throughout the country. The results of these studies are then used to develop risk data that can then be applied during land use planning and floodplain development.

Photo 4-5: Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Adopt-A-Stream projects like this one along Lower Little Swatara Creek in Schuylkill County restore and preserve riparian habitat.

D. Lakes and Ponds

"Significant" lakes and ponds within the Swatara Creek watershed were identified through a review of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 1996 Water Quality Assessment (Frey, 1996), and are presented in Table 4-2 and on Figure 4-1. As defined in this assessment, a "significant lake" is "a publicly-owned lake with a retention time of 14 days or greater". According to Frey (1996), Pennsylvania’s definition of a publicly- owned lake is consistent with the EPA definition set forth in 45 CFR Part 35, FR Volume 25, which is "A fresh water lake that offers public access to the lake through publicly-owned contiguous land so that any person has the same opportunity to enjoy non-consumptive privileges and benefits of the lake as any other person".

Table 4-2

Publicly Owned Lakes in the Swatara Creek Watershed





Stoevers Dam




Lions Lake/Ebenezer Dam




Memorial Lake




Sweet Arrow Lake




Additional lakes identified include those listed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) as Approved Trout Waters (Table 4-3, figure 4-1) as well   as Lake Weis, Lake stause, and Shuey Lake in Lebanon County, and Lebanon Reservoir in Schuylkill county (Figure4-1).

Table 4-3

PFBC Approved Trout Lakes within the Swatara Creek Watershed




Marquette Lake



Stovers Dam



Middletown Reservoir




E. Water Quality

1. General Watershed Characteristics

The Swatara Creek watershed encompasses an approximately 571 mi 2 area in Schuylkill, Berks, Lebanon, and Dauphin counties (PADEP, 1989) Figure 4-1). A 5th order stream at its mouth near the Susquehanna River, the Swatara originates in the southern Pocono’s geologic formation at Broad Mountain in Schuylkill County’s Southern Anthracite Coal Field (Lindsey, Breen, Bilger, & Brightbill, 1998) (a stream with no tributaries is a 1st order stream, when two 1st order streams intersect they form a 2nd order stream, when two 2nd order streams intersect they from a 3rd order stream, and so forth). According to McCarren, Lake County Us e Marquette Lake Lebanon TSF Stovers Dam Lebanon TSF Middletown Reservoir Dauphin TSF Table 4-3 PFBC Approved Trout Lakes within the Swatara Creek Watershed

Wark, and George (cited in Skelly and Loy, 1987), the average gradient in the headwater region is 47 feet per mile, while overall, the gradient is approximately 17 feet per mile. From the heavily mined coal deposits of Schuylkill County, the Swatara continues southwest through agricultural and developed lands in Lebanon and Dauphin County’s limestone region.

The Swatara watershed has been designated as a High Priority on the Nonpoint Source (NPS) Priority Degraded Watershed List (DWL) under the PADEP’s Nonpoint Source Control Program (Frey, 1994,1996). The NPS DWL identifies streams or stream segments impacted by non-point sources of pollution. PADEP uses information about the stream degradation level, in conjunction with interest from public and local groups, to determine the watersheds that would most likely benefit from remediation projects. Impaired waters are presented in Figure 4-2.

Included in the High-Priority designation are approximately 35.6 miles degraded by nonpoint source (NPS) agricultural runoff and an additional 62.8 miles degraded by AMD (Frey, 1994). In addition, according to Koury (1998) there were 48 mining operations in the watershed including 29 active and 19 inactive or under planning. For perspective, the 1996Annual Production Report indicates that 631,272 tons of coal were extracted from Swatara’s watershed (cited in Koury, 1998).

Researchers delineate the Swatara watershedi nto different ecoregions and physiographic provinces based on several key parameters. The generally recognized subunits are outlined in Table 4-4.

Table 4-4

Watershed Subunits and Physiographic Provinces


Physiographic Province

Bedrock Type

Land Use

Great Valley Limestone

Ridge and Valley (Great Valley)

Limestone and Dolomite


Great Valley Limestone

Ridge and Valley (Great Valley)

Limestone and Dolomite


Appalachian Mountain Sandstone and Shale

Ridge and Valley (Appalachian Mountain)

Sandstone and Shale


Appalachian Mountain Sandstone and Shale

Ridge and Valley (Appalachian Mountain)

Sandstone and Shale


Situated within the Ridge and Valley (Appalachian Mountain Section) physiographic province through-out southeastern Schuylkill and western Berks counties, the upper watershed is dominated by sandstone and shale formations. The dominant land use within this region is forestland and agriculture. The middle and lower watershed is situated in Lebanon and Dauphin counties and is part of the Ridge and Valley (Great Valley) physiographic province. Agricultural land use intensifies throughout this region, as well as significant increases in residential and urban areas. Unlike the Ridge and Valley region, the geology within this province is composed of limestone and dolomite bedrock.

The underlying bedrock in the Swatara basin has a significant effect on the concentration of pollutants in surface and groundwater. According to Lindsey et al. (1998), land use and bedrock type accounted for most of the variation in nitrogen and pesticide concentrations found in ground and surface waters. When compared with other bedrock types in the watershed, agricultural areas underlain by limestone had groundwater and surface water nitrate concentrations that frequently exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). Conversely, urban areas underlain by limestone and forested and agricultural areas underlain by sandstone and shale had nitrate concentrations that rarely exceeded MCL’s. Limestone regions were also more likely to have pesticide-contaminated wells than sandstone and shale regions.

As expected, the surrounding land use and geology correlates well with the observed differences in water quality throughout the Swatara basin. According to Bednarczyk, Camann, Hurst, Jones, Lamoncha, & Williams (1996), at least three nonpoint source discharge regimes exist within the Swatara Creek watershed: 1) AMD from anthracite coal-mining operations in the upper rural areas; 2) nitrogen enrichment from agricultural runoff, primarily in the central basin; and 3) urban effluents from the lower regions of the watershed.

Photo 4-7: Iron precipitate is a primary indicator of AMD.

Photo 4-8: Agricultural encroachment within the floodplain leads to increased erosion, turbidity, and pollutants within the stream.

2. General Water Quality Trends

The ever-increasing demands of urban and residential development, industry, resource extraction, and agriculture have fostered an exhaustive amount of research on the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. One of the primary focuses of this research has been the Lower Susquehanna River Basin that provides more than half of the freshwater to the bay (Natural Lands Trust, 1997). As a major part of this basin, the Swatara Creek watershed has been the focus of numerous investigations attempting to characterize the chemical, biological, and habitat parameters that affect the overall integrity of this ecosystem. Extensive farming, urban development, and mining throughout Swatara’s basin have historically been the primary threats to water quality.

One the most ambitious, nationwide watershed studies was initiated in 1991 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) was designed to collect consistent water quality data, report on the status and trends of water resources, and identify factors that affect water quality throughout the United States. To meet these objectives, the USGS established approximately 60 study units, or major watersheds, throughout the country. Information regarding the physical, chemical, and biological condition of the Lower Susquehanna watershed was conducted between 1992 and 1995.

Photo 4-9: Swatara Creek’s confluence with the Susquehanna River at Middletown.

According to Lindsey et al. (1998), water quality data suggests several trends in chemical constituents throughout the Lower Susquehanna Basin. A basin-wide summary of the findings is as follows:

bulletNutrient concentrations in streams are high, and often exceed drinking water standards (DWS) in agricultural areas.
bulletPesticide concentrations are near the national median and rarely exceed DWS.
bulletPolychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) and organohalide pesticides in fish tissue are among the highest in the nation.
bulletNitrate concentrations of water wells in areas underlain by limestone are among the highest nationwide and represent a human health concern.
bulletDetected pesticides were high compared to the national average.

Within the Swatara basin, just west of Lebanon, NAWQA maintains a study unit at Bachman Run. When data from Bachman Run was compared to all of the NAWQA study units nationwide, Lindsey et al. (1998) identified the following trends:

Nutrients; including nitrates, phosphates, and ammonia, were among the highest 25% of all sites in the country (75 th %).
Organochloride pesticides and PCB’s in streambed sediments and biological tissue were between the median and the 75 th %.
Trace elements in streambed sediments were between the median and the 75 th %.
Semivolatile Organic Compounds (SVOC) in streambed sediments were greater than the 75 th %.
Stream habitat degradation was greater than the 75 th %. · Degradation of the fish community was greater than the 75 th %.

As indicated by these results, the Bachman Run sub-basin of the Swatara Creek watershed was among the most degraded in the nation for these constituents.

On a more regional level, PADEP maintains hundreds of fixed Water Quality Network (WQN) stations throughout the state. Information obtained at each location is used in assessing surface water quality, identifying trends, and evaluating the effectiveness of the Water Quality Management Program (Shertzer & Schreffler, 1996).

Photo 4-10: Agricultural development and floodplain encroachment along Killinger Creek in Lebanon County.

Data from the WQN Station near Swatara’s mouth indicated that total aluminum, total iron, and total manganese exhibited yearly changes in concentration of 40.7 ug/l, 43.7 ug/l, and 5.0 ug/l, respectively (Frey, 1994). Because these chemical species are common constituents associated with AMD, this may indicate an increase in AMD. Conversely, total phosphorus and dissolved solids, both indicators of agricultural pollutants, exhibited estimated marginal annual decreases of 0.010 ug/l and 5.0 ug/l, respectively. These decreases may be associated with implementation of the Pennsylvania Nutrient Management law, which required animal operations with more than 2,000 pounds of livestock per acre to develop and implement approved nutrient management plans. Results from the WQN between 1988 and 1992 indicated that the majority of degradation reported in the Lower Susquehanna River sub-basin was attributable to agricultural sources; however, the problems within Swatara’s watershed were apparently dominated by resource extraction.

Photo 4-11: Streambank fencing and controlled livestock access along Upper Little Swatara Creek in Schuylkill County.

Section 303(b) of the Clean Water Act of 1972 requires that states adopt specific water quality standards that include uses designated for their water bodies. These standards specify maximum ambient levels of pollutants that will ensure that waters can be used for their designated purposes. Water uses and levels of specific chemical parameters are to be protected and maintained with the goal of eliminating and preventing water pollution. A synopsis of Pennsylvania’s designated water uses includes fish and aquatic life; public, industrial, livestock, wildlife, and irrigational water supply; and boating, fishing, water contact sports, aesthetics, and recreational uses (Frey, 1996).

In accordance with section 303(b), the major goal of Pennsylvania’s Water Quality Assessment Program is to evaluate whether these water quality standards are being met. Data from the program is compiled and presented to Congress and the public in accordance with section 305(b), which requires states to conduct biennial water quality assessments on the condition of their waterways and report on these findings. Section 303(d) of the Act further requires states to evaluate the impaired waters to determine which waters, even after an appropriate water pollution control measure had been taken, would not support the designated water use. These waters would then be listed on PADEP’s Section 303(d) List of Impaired Waters. Table 4-5 lists the Section 303(d) listed streams within the Swatara Creek watershed. (PADEP, 1999b)

Table 4-5

3. Abandoned Mine Drainage

AMD involves a complex set of chemical reactions; but begins by exposing sulfides to oxygen during the mining process. Sulfides almost invariably occur within bituminous and anthracite coal seams, in rocks and clays surrounding the seams, and within roof shales. Typically in the mineral form pyrite or marcasite (FeS 2 ), exposure to oxygen oxidizes the pyrite and liberates sulfate ions (SO 4 2- ), hydrogen ions (H + ), and ferrous iron (Fe 2+ ). The sulfate and hydrogen ions constitute the components of the familiar compound sulfuric acid (H 2 SO 4 ).

Further oxidation of the ferrous iron is often facilitated by iron bacterium such as Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, Metallogenium spp., Thiobacillus thiooxidans, and Bacillus ferrooxidans (Manahan, 1994). The additional oxidation has two consequences. First, the conversion of Fe 2+ to Fe 3+ causes the pyrite to further dissolve, thus perpetuating the cycle. Second, the ferric acid (Fe(H 2 O) 6 3+ ) remains in solution only at a very low pH (<3). When diluted by receiving waters, the pH rises, Fe(OH) 3 precipitates, and the familiar yellow-orange sediment found in many of Pennsylvania waterways is formed.

Photo 4-12: Extensive iron precipitate at the Tracey Airhole discharge in Schuylkill County.

The sediments produced by AMD can cause aesthetic damage by discoloring stream substrates, clog the gills of aquatic organisms, and increase toxic levels of metals. However, the most damaging component of AMD is the production of sulfuric acid, which is acutely toxic to all aquatic organisms (Manahan, 1994).

Research on the effects of AMD within the Swatara Creek watershed has been generally been divided between studies on the effects of AMD within the upper and middle watersheds (Koury, 1998; Skelly and Loy, 1987), and basin-wide water quality studies which evaluate chemistry, biological composition, and aquatic habitat (PADEP, 1998; Traver, 1997).

Investigators agree that there are several major AMD issues affecting water quality in Swatara’s basin. The major nonpoint AMD sources are the Lorberry Creek and Good Spring Creek abandoned mine areas. In fact, in a 1987 study, Skelly and Loy estimated that discharges from these regions accounted for 37% of all suspended solids in the watershed. The two major point source AMD discharges, Rowe Tunnel and the Tracey Airhole, are directly associated with Lorberry and Good Spring Creeks. Rowe Tunnel contributes 80% of the pollution to Lorberry Creek while the Tracey Airhole, which drains the Colket and Good Spring #3 Mine Pools, is the greatest single source of AMD in the Good Spring watershed (Koury, 1998; PADER, 1972; Skelly and Loy, 1987).

According to Skelly & Loy (1987) and others (Bednarczyk et al., 1996; Koury, 1998; PADEP, 1998; Traver, 1997) the extreme presence of AMD in the upper watershed creates a longitudinal difference in water quality, which is often manifested in the macroinvertebrate community. Macroinvertebrate sampling generally indicates both low diversity and productivity. Factors responsible for these results include sedimentation from coal fines and iron hydroxide, scouring, and water chemistry. A more detailed discussion on the effects of pollution on Swatara’s aquatic life and habitat composition is located in the Aquatic Life and Habitat section of this document.

Koury (1998) conducted one of the more comprehensive studies on the effects of AMD and rehabilitation strategies in the Upper Swatara Creek watershed. Historically, this area has been the center of the most intense resource extraction in the basin. In fact, the 43 mi 2 focus of Koury’s study near the town of Ravine, Schuylkill County has been degraded by AMD for over 150 years with over 100 discharges identified from mine openings, culm piles, and surface mines. Nine major mine pools are responsible for the majority of AMD discharges and include: Blackwood, Colket, Good Spring #3, Indian Head, Lincoln, Middle Creek, New Lincoln, Rausch Creek East Franklin, and Westwood. According to Operation Scarlift reports, four of these pools contain a cumulative excess of 1.68 billion gallons of mine-contaminated water (PADER, 1972).

Water quality for the upper Swatara, Good Spring Creek, Middle Creek, Lower Rausch Creek, and Lorberry Creek watersheds indicates that significant decreases in AMD discharges have been achieved through a myriad of reclamation projects (Koury, 1998). Trends in the biological composition also indicate continuous improvement over the past 10 years. However, sample stations at Middle Creek, Swatara Creek, and Lower Rausch Creek still attest to the extreme influence of AMD on the biological community. The following is a brief summary of Koury’s findings for each subwatershed. A more detailed discussion of these watersheds can be found in Koury (1998).

Lorberry Creek (3.99 mi 2 ) - Headwaters originate as a discharge of the abandoned Lincoln Colliery workings at Rowe Tunnel, one of the two primary discharges to Lorberry Creek (Skelly and Loy, 1987). The Shadle Coal Company deep mine is partially reclaimed but still discharges to this basin and is under review by PADEP. Several smaller discharges also exist along Lorberry Creek but the Rowe Tunnel masks these.

Photo 4-13: The Lorberry Junction Wetland Project on Lorberry Creek utilizes man-made wetlands and sedimentation ponds to reduce AMD in the Swatara Creek Watershed

Lower Rausch Creek (4.86 mi 2 ) - Originates from abandoned surface mine pits north of the I-81/S.R. 0209 intersection. Numerous abandoned deep mine discharges exist in this subwatershed including: New Lincoln Tunnel, Rausch Creek Tunnel, East Franklin Discharge, and North and South Orchard Drift. The only treatment along Lower Rausch Creek at the time of Koury’s assessment was the Lorberry Junction Treatment Wetland Project, which was completed in 1997 by PADEP.

Good Spring Creek (14.8 mi 2 ) - Headwaters originate from regions of abandoned strip pits with an estimated 2,650 acres of unreclaimed surface and coal reprocessing operations throughout this subwatershed. AMD from the abandoned Good Spring #3 and Colket minepools is the major contaminant in the subwatershed; with the Tracy Airhole discharge, an abandoned airway serving as the main drainage point for Good Spring #3.

Photo 4-14: Monitoring station at the Tracey Airhole discharge in the Good Spring Creek watershed.

Middle Creek (8.5 mi 2 ) - This subwatershed was identified as containing the leading sources of AMD in Operation Scarlift, 1972 (cited in Koury, 1998). Although significantly impacted by AMD in the past, due to extensive reclamation of abandoned deep and surface mines along Gebhard Run, Middle Creek, Coal Run, and Bailey Run, this area no longer contributes acid load to Swatara Creek.

Upper Swatara Creek (10 mi 2 ) - Originates from abandoned pits with significant sources of aluminum originating from an abandoned drift mine known as Hegins Run. Diversion projects have been undertaken as mitigation for Hegins Run and although the remaining discharges are numerous, they appear to have little effect on Swatara’s water quality. The Upper Swatara was also the focus of a 1997 study by PADEP and USGS to monitor the effectiveness of three passive treatment systems utilizing limestone. The results indicated that Anoxic Limestone Drains were the most effective.

4. Aquatic Life and Habitat

Much of the research on Swatara’s aquatic biota and habitat focuses on the correlation between point and nonpoint source pollution and its effects on the aquatic ecosystem. Within the upper watershed, AMD was identified as the dominant source of pollution (Bednarczyk et al. 1996; Koury, 1998; Lindsey et al. 1998; PADEP, 1998; Skelly and Loy, 1987). Benthic communities in AMD impacted streams typically exhibit a low relative abundance and species diversity, low to moderate community diversity, and dominance by relatively few taxa. Conversely, streams receiving no AMD influence characteristically display a diversity of species, complex trophic levels, higher relative abundance, and a lack of pronounced dominance by pollution tolerant

Results from Bednarczyk et al. (1996), for several upper watershed tributaries validate the effects of AMD on the aquatic community. As shown, the more heavily AMD impacted tributaries of Gebhard Run, Good Spring Creek, and Lower Rausch Creek were evidenced by either a low pH or elevated sulfate concentrations, while the less impacted tributaries of Black Creek, Upper and Lower Little Swatara Creeks, and Swope Valley Run exhibited a more neutral pH and moderate sulfate concentrations. These findings corresponded with variations in biological composition, which included significant differences in species diversity, relative abundance, and abundances of the pollution intolerant macroinvertebrate families of Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Tricoptera. Manganese and aluminum concentrations were also significantly higher in streams with the lowest taxonomic abundance and as Bednarczyk et al. indicates, the single best predictor of AMD damage to total macroarthropod abundance was sulfate concentration.

A comprehensive study, Traver (1997) investigated the interrelationship of water quality, habitat, and biological condition in the Lower Susquehanna Basin. Nine sample sites in the Swatara Creek watershed, from the headwaters to the mouth, were analyzed (Table 4-6).

Several trends relative to bedrock type and ecoregion are evident from these results and as Traver (1997) points out, restoration efforts should focus on the observed correlation between habitat and biological condi- tion.

Within the northern piedmont ecoregion, levels of ammonia and nutrients near Swatara Creek’s mouth (r.m. 2.3) point to the widespread, upstream influence of agriculture and wastewater treatment in the watershed. Despite these impacts however, the biological community was found to be non-impaired and exhibited rela- tively high species diversity.

Tributaries to the northeast in the limestone and dolomite region of the Ridge and Valley province generally exhibited good aquatic habitat with moderate water quality. When coupled with modest habitat conditions, healthy biological communities were observed. However, as with many other streams in the lower watershed, the influence of agriculture and development was evidenced by an impaired biological condition.

According to Traver (1997), the small shale and slate valley streams within the Ridge and Valley province displayed a strong positive correlation between habitat and biological health. When combined with the poorly buffered nature of streams in this region, the generally poor chemical parameters exert a tremendous influence on the aquatic community. In fact, results from stations on Little Swatara Creek, Quittapahilla Creek, and Swatara Creek (r.m 39.0 and 56.0) all indicated high concentrations of metals and/or nutrients with corresponding impairment to the aquatic community.

Table 4-6

Assessments of fish populations in the Swatara Creek watershed have revealed mixed results over the past 10 years. Historically, Swatara’s main stem from the proposed dam to the confluence of Lower Little Swatara was classified as a CWF by PADEP. This classification defines the fishery as one that is to be maintained for the propagation of fish species, including the family Salmonidae, indigenousto a cold water habitat. Although studies conducted by PFBC in 1994 and 1996, and by PADEPin 1995 (PADEP, 1998) identified a total of 29 different fish species, all of these species were typical of a warm water habitat. Subsequent to this study, PADEP recommended that Swatara’s designation be changed to WWF between the proposed dam and Lower Little Swatara’s confluence.  At the time of this report Swatara remained a CWF; however, inApril, 2000 a petition for reclassification as a WWF was made by PADEP. Table 4-7 lists species composition results from PFBC and PADEP sampling efforts conducted between 1987 and 1996.

Table 4-7

Source: Swatara Creek, Lebanon and Schuylkill Counties: Aquatic Life Use Attainability Water Quality Standards Review by PADEP, 1998, Harrisburg: Author; [Fish Occurrence Data], Unpublished data by Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, 1987.

F. Water Supply

1. Effluent Discharge

Section 402 of the Clean Water Act of 1972 establishes a national permit program, the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), that may be administered by the EPA or by individual states as delegated by the EPA. Essentially, the NPDES permit program translates general effluent limitations into specific obligations of a discharger. Thus, "…the discharge of any pollutant by any person shall be unlawful" except as specifically permitted by the regulatory agency (Percival, Miller, Schroeder, & Leape, 1996).

Effluent dischargers in the Swatara Creek watershed were identified through a review of PADEP NPDES databases (PADEP, 1999a). 79 active permits were identified. Although the majority of these permits are owned by industrial and municipal/sewage treatment facilities, several were issued to private individuals and retail businesses (Appendix D).

2. Water Use

83 public water facilities were identified within the Swatara Creek watershed. They supply a population of over 547,000 (United States Geological Survey [USGS], 1999). According to USGS (1999), surface water and groundwater withdrawal within the watershed totaled 223 million gallons per day (MGD) in 1990. Table 4-8 lists these water withdrawals by use

Table 4-8

Photo 4-15: The Lebanon City Water Treatment Plant.

As indicated in Table 4-8 the majority of consumptive water use was by the public sector. These figures translate to a per capita usage of 176.51 gallons per day. Although this figure may appear high, the public sector accounts for only 29% of the total surface water use. This is typical of most developed areas, were the largest water withdrawals are generally by industries and electric generation facilities. For example, non- public water withdrawal (industrial and fossil fuel thermoelectric generation) from the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh accounts for approximately 9 times as much surface water withdrawal from the river as public suppliers (Mackin Engineering, 1998). Also of significance is the number of active mining operations, which account for 53% of groundwater usage in the watershed.

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