Our Watershed Specialist
The goals of our Watershed Specialist are to provide technical assistance to watershed organizations, help new organizations to form, assess the quality of local watersheds, aid in developing preservation and restoration plans, and educate the community about the importance of watershed conservation. Activities the Watershed Specialist may be involved include riparian corridors, stormwater management, floodplain management, wellhead protection, source water protection, water resource planning, groundwater protection, acid mine drainage, and wetland restoration.
For questions or to request technical assistance, please contact:
(814) 676-2832 ext. 2
What is a Watershed?
A watershed is an area of land that channels rainfall and snowmelt into a single point such as a river, stream, lake, or wetland. They are connected to almost every environmental issue we face. When pollutants can be traced to a single source, this is called point-source pollution. Examples of these include factory discharge pipes that release waste into waterways or smokestacks that release harmful gases into the air. When pollution cannot be traced back to a single source, it is known as nonpoint source pollution. This includes any pollution that is diffused across the watershed and enters streams, rivers, lakes, groundwater sources, and others. Examples of these include nutrients from agriculture runoff, erosion and sedimentation from streambanks or construction sites, and abandoned mine drainage.
Everyone on Earth lives in a watershed. Similar to a home address, watersheds are classified by Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUC) which classifies hydrologic land features into a standard framework. These categories include Region, Subregion, Basin, Subbasin, Watershed, and Subwatershed. The length of the hydrologic unit code determines the watershed's category. For example, a HUC-8 watershed - or a subbasin - has an eight-digit code. The name of the watershed is often determined by the name or section of the river that is the largest flowing waterbody.
Venango County is located in the Ohio River Basin and is composed of 9 major (HUC-10) watersheds. These include the Lower Allegheny River, East Sandy Creek, Oil Creek, Pine Creek, Sandy Creek, French Creek, Sugar Creek, Slippery Rock Creek, and Wolf Creek watersheds.
Restoration & Protection
Our Watershed Conservation Program works to restore, protect, and enhance surface and groundwater resources throughout Venango County. We assist landowners, farmers, businesses, and other stakeholders with solving our county's critical resource concerns. We do this by providing technical assistance which can involve project planning, grant funding procurement, and permit application assistance.
Combating nonpoint source pollution is a collaborative fight, as partnerships with landowners, community organizations, government agencies, farms, businesses, and others are crucial to ensuring that clean water remains for wildlife, recreation, and consumption for generations to come.
Below lists types of source water protection projects that our district has been involved in.
Acid Mine Drainage Treatment
AMD is the number one water pollution problem in Pennsylvania. It is formed when water travels through abandoned coal mines and reacts with exposed minerals, thus altering the water's pH and introducing metals into surface waters. Contaminated water pollutes drinking water sources, corrodes bridges and other infrastructure, and is toxis to fish, amphibians and other organisms. Today, there are over 5,500 miles of streams in the Commonwealth that are impaired due to AMD. Remediation can be achieved through passive or active treatment. Many streams throughout the southern portion of Venango County are affected by AMD. Water monitoring is important to not only identify problem areas, but also to understand the severity of stream impairment and to assess the effectiveness of treatment strategies.
Streambank erosion occurs when the hydraulic forces of the water in the stream are stronger than the bank's ability to withstand it. An increase in stormwater runoff can escalate the water's velocity, and the loss of streamside forests can weaken the bank's ability to remain in place. Erosion can cause an increase of sediment into waterways, loss of fish habitat, and stream migration. Many streamside landowners report property damage due to a destabilized stream. Our district assists in identifying these problem areas and seeks funding opportunities to design and construct streambank stabilization devices. We work carefully with landowners, businesses, and organizations to address their concerns and improve the environmental quality of our counties surface waters for future generations to enjoy.
A riparian forest buffer is an area adjacent to a stream, lake, or wetland that contains a combination of trees, shrubs, and/or other perennial plants and is managed differently from the surrounding landscape, primarily to provide conservation benefits. Buffers are used in agricultural, row crop, range, suburban, and urban settings. They can deliver a number benefits including filtering nutrients, stabilizing eroding banks, filtering sediment from runoff, providing shade and food for aquatic wildlife, providing wildlife habitat and corridors for terrestrial organisms, and reducing flood damage. Many streams throughout the county are void of these important buffers. Often times, we introduce riparian buffers in cooperation with other streamside projects, or landowners request our assistance with completing an individual buffer project on their property.
The Venango Conservation District's Watershed Conservation Program partners with local watershed organizations to implement preservation and restoration measures to conserve the water resources of our county. The passionate volunteers in these organizations work in cooperation with our district by sharing resources and partnering on projects that serve a variety of benefits to landowners, businesses, ecosystems, and the public.
Stormwater Solutions to Nonpoint Source Pollution
Below are small-scale, yet very useful stormwater management practices that homeowners and businesses can utilize. Contact the Watershed Specialist for more information or for assistance related to these projects.
The average household uses 146,000 gallons of water per year. Up to half of that is used just for watering landscaping during the summer. By collecting rain water you can save energy, water and money while helping keep our streams clean by reducing runoff and erosion. Stormwater runoff picks up pollutants such as soil, lawn fertilizers, pesticides, trash, animal waste, road salts, chemicals, etc. and transports them to waterways. Increased amounts of stormwater runoff also increases erosion and flooding. Capturing some of the water will reduce velocity and peak flows.
With a rain barrel, you can collect rainwater from your gutter downspout and use it around your home and garden, which means spending less on your water bills. It should not be used for human consumption.
A rain garden is a depressed area containing grasses and flowing perennials that collects rain water from a roof, driveway or street and allows it to soak into the ground. It can be a cost effective and beautiful way to reduce runoff from your property by filtering out pollutants in runoff and providing food and shelter for butterflies, song birds and other wildlife.
Rain gardens capture the rain that would usually runoff your property and allow it to soak into the ground. The native plants in the garden filter contaminated water that would normally wash into storm drains and eventually into our water supply. Compared to a patch of lawn, a rain garden allows about 30% more rain water to filter into the ground.
Rather than a traditional raised garden bed, a rain garden is a sunken garden. They should be placed at least 10 feet from the house and on a gentle slope that catches downspout water. A ponding area is created and layers of gravel, sand, and a soil/sand mix are added. Then, native perennials are planted.
We can offer technical assistance related to pond maintenance by offering recommendations regarding aquatic plant and fish species management. If you have questions or concerns about your pond or are planning to build a pond, contact the Watershed Specialist for more information.
Permits for pond construction and/or disturbance activities may be required under the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection's Chapter 105 (Dam Safety & Waterway Management) regulations. Our office can assist you in determining which permits apply to your project.
Special Protection Waters
Resulting from the Clean Water Act of 1972, states have developed their own water quality standards. Pennsylvania's Chapter 93 Water Quality Standards classify surface waters into different protected uses such as aquatic life, water supply, recreation and fish consumption, navigation, and special protection.
Special protection waters are classified as either Exceptional Value (EV) or High Quality (HQ). To be classified as EV or HQ, the water body must meet certain levels of several water quality parameters (at least 99% of the time), measured over the course of one year. These parameters include dissolved oxygen, aluminum, iron, pH, among others. Fish and aquatic macroinvertebrate community composition are also considered. Other qualifiers can automatically deem a water body as either EV or HQ. For example, a Class A Wild Trout Stream designation qualifies the stream as HQ, while a Wildnerness Trout Stream designation qualifies the stream as EV.
Several grant programs place emphasis on funding projects within EV and HQ watersheds. These designations also prevent radioactive or hazardous waste facilities from being located within these watersheds. Despite having some additional restrictions that other watersheds might not have, activities that occur before an EV or HQ designation are not affected. In addition, most farming and road maintenance practices do not need to be altered because of these designations.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) surveys surface waters to determine if they are not attaining their protected uses. Protected uses include aquatic life, fish consumption, recreation, and potable water supply. Assessment determinations fall into three general statuses: attaining, impaired, or unassessed. If there are present factors affecting a protected use of a stream, then it is listed as "impaired." Integrated Water Quality Reports are published by the DEP every two years which outline the status of our surface waters.
Impairment sources can include acid mine drainage, agriculture, urban runoff, habitat modification, unknown sources, among others. Impairment causes can include siltation, pathogens, metals, mercury, pH, nutrients, among others.
DEP's Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Program, implements Section 303(d) of the CWA which requires states to establish a TMDL for all pollutants identified as preventing attainment of water quality standards. TMDLs set the maximum amount of a pollutant, the pollutant load, that can be delivered to a waterbody without exceeding water quality standards. TMDLs also allocate the allowable pollutant load among the various sources in the watershed (e.g., point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants, and nonpoint sources, such as agriculture and mine drainage).
Please note: The data reflected in these maps is for educational purposes only and may not reflect the most up-to-date information. The maps are to provide spatial representation of water quality data gathered by the Department, and do not take precedence over the Chapter 93 Water Quality Standards outlined in the Pennsylvania Code. To confirm a stream designation, please contact our office.