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SWATARA WATERSHED ASSOCIATION Lebanon, PA USA
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Chapter9 : Issues, Concerns, Constraints and Opportunities
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The rapid population growth occurring within the watershed, especially in Berks, Dauphin, and Lebanon Counties is the most important issue associated with the Project Area Characteristics. As presented in the population write-up, the watershed has seen a population increase of 40.5% from 1960 through 1990. Some municipalities within the watershed experienced nearly 200% growth in the thirty years between 1960 and 1990. All indications suggest that this growth trend will continue through the year 2000 census and beyond. This population growth is occurring in locations that were traditionally in agricultural or forested land use, away from the traditional urban population centers, which are actually losing residents.
This increasing population requires housing, transportation, water, sewage, and other amenities associated with residential development. Development of traditional rural/agricultural areas to accommodate the emigration from the urban areas threatens the aesthetics and quality of life that made these areas so appealing to live in. Increased development in close proximity to Swatara Creek and its tributaries will continue to erode the aesthetics of the stream corridor in the watershed.
Increasing population further away from the urban population centers is also resulting in longer commutes and increased congestion on roadways in the watershed. Large-scale roadway upgrades to address congestion convert farmland, encourage further emigration, and contribute to the rapid expansion of highway related commercial areas throughout the watershed. The expansion of the highway related commercial areas again results in congestion and traffic delays.
The population growth and associated development has had a major, permanent effect on the long-term land use patterns in the watershed, especially Berks, Dauphin, and Lebanon Counties. Along with residential and transportation development, industrial development has also emigrated from the urban centers into the rural landscape. Located primarily along the major transportation corridors in the watershed, this is primarily light industry and trucking which have gradually replaced the heavy industry (steel, coal, manufacturing, etc.) that was traditionally found in the watershed.
Other land use issues of concern are the conversion of family farms to industrial farming operations as a way to remain profitable in the face of tighter profit margins in agriculture. Although these operations prevent the conversion of farmland there are issues concerning manure management, discharges, odors, and traffic that are significant and controversial.
An uneven distribution of wealth between the counties and communities of the watershed, caused by population loss and higher levels of unemployment and underemployment, may result in the uneven implementation of the management options proposed in this plan.
This project offers a unique opportunity for municipalities of the watershed to work together to look at the region on a watershed basis. By doing this, land use plans can be developed on a watershed scale rather than a municipal scale. This would result in better allocation of the limited available land resources for the development necessary to continue economic growth in the region as well as protect the resources and aesthetics that make the area a unique and desirable place to live.
The loss of farmland and farmland soils is a primary concern with regard to land resources. The same features that contribute to land being well suited for agricultural production (slope, drainage, stability) also make these areas attractive for development. The increasing population, as discussed in the Project Area Characteristics, is settling in areas that were traditionally farmed. High land prices and reduced profits in agriculture are making it difficult for farmers to continue in the business. Programs in place to protect farmland have been successful in some instances; but in others, property values assigned under old tax assessments make it economically unfeasible to establish Agricultural Security Areas and Agricultural Conservation Easements.
The shifting industrial base of the watershed out of the traditional population centers is leaving abandoned commercial/industrial "Brownfield" sites in these communities. These sites may have environmental cleanup concerns associated with them.
Abandoned and active mine and quarry properties are also an area of concern. These sites are potentially dangerous and can be a source of degradation in the watershed, especially the abandoned facilities. In addition, the abandoned quarries are often filled with groundwater. Because of this, these areas could be a direct source of contamination entering the groundwater in the area.
Expansion of the existing landfills in the watershed or the development of new landfills is a concern as the population of the region increases and the level of refuse imported from out of state also rises.
Finally, sinkhole development has always been a concern in the karst limestone formations of the watershed. However, since the majority of the area was in agricultural production, the impacts of sinkhole development were minimal. With increased development in the Karst areas, sinkhole development is becoming a greater potential safety and economic hazard. In addition, the increased runoff associated with development is leading to more frequent sinkhole formation in and around these areas.
The abandoned mines, quarries, and commercial/industrial buildings or "Brownfields" in the watershed offer a great opportunity for redevelopment. Utilizing PA Act 2 funding from the state, these areas can be assessed, remediated, and be put back into productive use. Often, these areas already have the necessary infrastructure for industry and are located near other industrial and commercial support enterprises. Reutilization of these sites would help to reduce some of the pressure to develop existing farmland and reduce urban sprawl.
Developing a partnership with Ft. Indiantown Gap (FIG) offers an opportunity to obtain environmental improvement on the largest land holding in the watershed. A mutually beneficial relationship would allow FIG to continue training exercises and activities, while protecting and enhancing the important flora and fauna located on site is a great opportunity for the watershed.
Impacts to water quality are the predominant concern in the entire watershed. Decades of abuse and degradation have given way to improvements in the quality of water in the streams of the watershed. However, most of the watershed remains impaired to some degree. Today, most of the impairment to the waters of the watershed is a result of non point source pollution (NPS). Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD), a result of coal mining in the northern portion of the watershed, is a primary cause of water quality impairment in the Schuylkill County portion of the watershed. Agricultural and nutrient runoff is a primary cause of impairment to the streams in the agricultural areas of the southern Schuylkill, Berks, Dauphin and Lebanon County sections of the watershed. Urban runoff from the rapidly developing areas of Dauphin and Lebanon Counties is a final major NPS cause of stream impairment in the watershed.
Public water supply reservoirs, municipal well, and private wells currently supply the need of the region. Increased population and development in the watershed has resulted and will continue to result in a higher demand for water. Increased surface water and groundwater withdrawals to meet this demand may result in lower base flows and higher summer and lower winter temperatures in streams in the watershed. This could be very important in the coldwater and trout stocked streams of the project area.
Increased development is reducing the amount of riparian buffers along the stream corridors in the watershed. This results in increased runoff, erosion and sedimentation, thermal increases, and loss of aesthetics along these streams. In the areas of the watershed that are experiencing increased development, the resulting increase in impervious surface is increasing runoff into the streams and raising peak runoff volumes in the streams. This same development is reducing the infiltration of precipitation for groundwater recharge.
Industrial farming operations (concentrated animal operations (CAO’s) and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s)) are becoming more prevalent in the watershed. CAO and CAFO practices, especially those associated with disposal of waste products are potentially a source of serious degradation to the streams and groundwater in the watershed.
Water filled quarry pits and mines, especially those in the karst topography of the southern portion of the watershed, directly expose groundwater to potential contamination. Application of pesticides and fertilizer as part of farming operations can also result in contamination of groundwater supplies and is a concern.
The loss of beneficial floodplain values is a concern in the watershed. Development in and around the floodplains of the streams in the watershed can cause increased flooding problems downstream as well as reduce infiltration and groundwater recharge from rain/storm events.
Finally, the structural integrity of the dams and condition of some of the lakes (most notably Stoevers Dam and Sweet Arrow Lake) in the watershed are deteriorating. Failure to address these situations will, at a minimum, result in the loss of recreational opportunities and could compromise public safety.
This project offers the opportunity to develop and coordinate a comprehensive watershed- wide assessment of the streams within the watershed. Utilizing a group of trained volunteers to monitor and sample the waters, management decisions can be made regarding which streams need to have restoration/rehabilitation projects completed on them. The success and progress of implemented projects can be monitored and assessed in the same manner.
The water filled quarries in the southern portion of the watershed offer the potential for use as a supplemental water source for the region, if potential contamination issues and ownership can be addressed.
Invasive species are the greatest concern with regard to biological resources in the watershed. These plant and animal species (especially purple loostrife (Lythrum salicaria), tall reed (Phragmites communis), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), and zebra mussel (Dreissensia polymorpha)) reduce ecological diversity and habitat and can cause significant economic damage.
The loss of forested areas, wetlands, and riparian buffers in the watershed, as a result of increased development, eliminates habitat for sensitive species (neotropical migrant birds, wetland species, and forest interior species) and reduces the availability of travel corridors for movement of wildlife through the watershed.
No old growth forest component exists within the watershed.
Expansion of the FIG training facility could have adverse impacts on wildlife, habitat, and species of special concern that inhabit the property.
The project offers the opportunity to develop a natural heritage inventory for species and habitats of special interest in the two counties in the watershed that do not currently have one (Lebanon and Schuylkill).
The proposed development and expansion of the FIG training facility offers the opportunity for a partnership to be forged with the facility to protect and enhance important habitats, while allowing for continued use of the lands on the facility for military training.
Continued growth of the population in the watershed will stretch the capacity of local parks and recreation facilities to provide for recreational needs.
Continued development in the watershed, especially around the stream corridors and the historic farmsteads of the region, threatens to destroy significant historic and prehistoric cultural features.
Access to the streams in the watershed for recreational activities is limited.
The Swatara Creek water trail offers the opportunity for developing formal access points to Swatara Creek for canoeing/boating or other recreational pursuits. The water trail also offers an opportunity for recreational users to become more familiar with the unique and significant natural and cultural features in close proximity to the trail.
Development of a trail system/greenway utilizing Swatara Creek, its major tributaries, abandoned rail lines, Swatara State Park, and the Union Canal could provide a major source of recreation, protection of significant cultural resources, and travel through the watershed.
Improvements to and expansion of the Union Canal Tunnel Park and other historically significant features would result in expanded recreational opportunities and greater interpretation and protection for significant features within the watershed.
Development of the Swatara State Park would assist in developing tourism in the northern Lebanon, Southern Schuylkill County portion of the watershed. This would also bring additional revenues into the region.
Development of the Swatara Greenway would provide a contiguous source of habitat and travel for wildlife and recreation in the watershed.
Continue Reading Chapter 10 of the RCP
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