A Brief History of the Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance

By Molly Moffe,

Environmental Studies and Chemistry '00

Bucknell University

The 1972 Operation Scarlift report (Gannett Fleming Coddry and Carpenter, Inc., 1972, Mine Drainage Abatement Measures for the Shamokin Creek Watershed, Project No. Sl-113) was a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of mining on the watershed. The report identifies 54 discharges, ranging from intermittent to several millions of gallons per day. Acidity, alkalinity, and Fe, Al, and Mn concentrations varied widely. Five remediation plans were proposed; no water quality treatment resulted from the Scarlift study.

In 1994, Dr. Carl Kirby of the Bucknell University Geology Department was contacted by the district technician, Kevin Blake, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to assist with an assessment of the Shamokin Creek Watershed. David Moratelli, an engineering technician at the Northumberland County Conservation District (NCCD), initiated this assessment and wrote the draft proposal for funding. The Pocono Northeast Resource Conservation and Development Council had funded the modified proposal. The resulting project was the first attempt to deal with the acid mine drainage (AMD) problem in the Shamokin Creek Watershed except for efforts of the short-lived Shamokin Creek Watershed Association. The assessment, which involved several Bucknell University students performing fieldwork, lab work and map construction, was completed in 1995. In the year after its completion, Kirby and Moratelli attended two different conferences on how to obtain grant money for the remediation of AMD and also on information about the different types of passive treatment systems used in the remediation of AMD. These conferences also revealed the importance of partnering with a citizen’s watershed organization in order to achieve success in the clean up of a watershed.

In May of 1996, a meeting was held in Shamokin in order to see how much citizen involvement could be incorporated into the project. By the middle of 1996, there was a group of about 15-20 meeting monthly, which had chosen the name "Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance" (SCRA). In December of 1996, the SCRA held a "logo design" contest at five different school districts within the watershed. Along with the design of their current logo, the contest also served to convey general information to the students about the SCRA, its goals, and how to correct AMD. The Internal Revenue Service granted the SCRA tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status in December.

The first project the SCRA tackled together was to apply for a 319 grant which is a non-point source pollution program funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The NCCD applied for a grant to treat Scarlift Site 42. Site 42 had been chosen because the water was reasonably treatable, it was located on county land, and it is the second largest discharge in the area of the watershed they were interested in at the time; the Carbon Run sub-watershed. The group needed a "success story" to get the momentum going, and they thought this was the best way possible. Unfortunately, the SCRA’s grant proposal would eventually be turned down. With the NCCD and with the US Geological Survey, they would apply for two more large 319 grants in 1998. In the meantime, the group was busy sampling water and installing weirs through out the watershed. They also had been working on contacting several coal operators for permission to sample on their lands to carry out necessary water sampling.

Also during this time, they had their first annual stream bank cleanup. The current president of the SCRA stresses that the cleanup was the SCRA’s first major public exposure in the Mt. Carmel/Shamokin newspaper. The News Item continues to provide excellent exposure of the SCRA’s efforts. In the years to come, many local businesses became involved in the annual cleanup: the Shamokin Bi-Lo supplied trash bags, local dentists’ offices supplied gloves, both the Shamokin Burger King and McDonald’s provided refreshments for the volunteers, the city of Shamokin paid for the disposal of the collected trash, the Northwestern Academy helped haul large trash out of the stream, and students and teachers from the Northumberland County Area Vocational-Technology school participated. Also about this time, the SCRA had sent an informative/fundraising flyer to over 450 businesses within the watershed.

Also during the SCRA’s beginnings, the county awarded the SCRA a grant for equipment and materials conducive to their goals. Bucknell students continued to help in the beginning by working on AMD research projects to understand the associated with different types of treatment systems. There were also several students constructing geographic information system (GIS) maps and databases of the Shamokin Creek watershed.

In February of 1998, the NCCD submitted a 319 grant proposal to the DEP on behalf of the SCRA for the construction of a treatment site within the watershed at Site 42. The grant received preliminary acceptance in June of 1998 and final approval in January of 1999. The grant was supplemented by matching funds from Bucknell University (which had received these funds from the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation) and by in-kind services from the Bucknell faculty and students and SCRA volunteers. McKenna funding will go towards supplies such as limestone and has funded the research so far done by Bucknell students. When it was realized in the fall of 1998, that more money was needed to complete the project, the SCRA applied for and received a grant from the Office of Surface Mining. In March of 1998, Dr. Charles Cravotta of the United States Geological Society (USGS) Lemoyne, PA office wrote and the NCCD submitted a grant on the behalf of the SCRA for the funding to conduct a comprehensive watershed assessment of Shamokin Creek. This assessment would update the Department of Environmental Resource’s 1972 "Operation Scarlift." The grant would eventually be approved in July of 1999. In April of 1998, the SCRA held its second annual stream bank cleanup, which involved more

members of the community than the first cleanup.

During the summer of 1998, two Bucknell students performed a pre-treatment assessment of the Carbon Run sub-watershed, funded by the McKenna Foundation and Bucknell University. The results of that assessment will now be used by the SCRA and Bucknell to monitor the success of the Site 42 treatment system currently being installed, which will be discussed later on. In July of 1998, the SCRA hosted a large tour of the Shamokin Creek Watershed in order to "spark interest in federal and state agencies in making more funds available for creek cleanup projects," according to the News Item. The News Item also stated that they gave the officials a first hand look while informing them of possible treatment methods. Those agencies in attendance included representatives form the DEP’s Bureau of Abandoned Mines and Watershed Conservation, the USGS, the Federal Bureau of Mines and Bureau of Surface Mining, Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR), the Canaan Valley Institute, the NCCD, and other watershed organizations.

In the fall of 1998, the SCRA began its development of a comprehensive plan for the entire watershed as an important step in receiving funding from the DEP and the EPA. They are focusing not only on AMD but also agricultural and sewage runoff. Agencies assisting them include the DEP, the US Department of Agriculture, Bucknell University, USGS, Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR) and NCCD. Also in the fall of 1998, the Shamokin Creek was included in the federal American Heritage Rivers List. It was initially excluded from the list when on July 30,th President Clinton named the Upper Susquehanna-Lackawanna River Watershed as one of the first 14 American Heritage Rivers. Designation as an American Heritage River would provide between $500-$800 million of federal funding over the next ten years. Since a main priority of the act was to clean the river and its watershed of its pollutants, Commissioner Chair Allen Cwalina contacted Congressman Paul Kanjorski to extend the designation to the Shamokin Creek watershed. Kanjorski, who lived in the coal region his whole life, understood that the watershed "needs to be restored to its rightful form," according to the News Item.

As mentioned earlier, a huge successful step occurred for the SCRA in January of 1999. That month the SCRA reported final approval of the 319 grant to construct a treatment site at Site 42. Students at Bucknell, as part of their Civil Engineering senior design course had already started plans for the design of the treatment during the fall of that year. Participants of this treatment project include Bucknell students, local citizens, professionals, NCCD, Bucknell, Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation, Bureau of Mining and Reclamation, Damariscotta Inc. (company performing the design work), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), local high schools, and EPCAMR. Also in the winter of 1999, the SCRA submitted an application to River Network for the implementation of an educational/outreach program in which Canaan Valley Institute would act as a team facilitator and hold public forums. They also applied for designation as a "Keystone Project" under a Penn State University program. The president of the SCRA also had an informative article on the SCRA published in the February edition of the Fly Fishing Guide.

In April of 1999, the NCCD received a grant from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund. This grant will pay for half of the cost of preparing a conservation plan for the watershed, building upon the USGS-led assessment. The remaining half of the funds are in kind services from the USGS, Bucknell, EPCAMR and Canaan Valley Institute. Also in the spring of 1999, EPCAMR and the Canaan Valley awarded the SCRA grant money for equipment and educational purposes, respectively. The Canaan Valley Institute grant was used to put together a poster presentation of the success of some of the SCRA’s projects thus far. Also during the spring, a DEP Watershed Task Force was formed with the SCRA.

During the summer of 1999, the SCRA had a Drexel University student working with Bucknell help with identifying land ownership, construction of GIS maps and compiling data from the DEP. Also during that summer, the area Vocational Technology school gave them a grant to create a retention pond, another form of AMD passive treatment, at Scarlift Site 48 on school property. The help of their students was also offered. The first round of sampling led by the USGS also took place during August for the assessment of the watershed as funded by the second 319 grant. They followed up the summer’s chemical and hydrological data with macroinvertebrate sampling and electrofishing in the fall. The SCRA was also awarded another grant by the DEP for the purchase of GIS software and for the training of the use of the software at Penn State University.

Also in the fall of 1999, after Damariscotta completed its plans of the Site 42 treatment system, D. A. Kessler Construction was hired, and construction began in November of 1999. This event marked a very exciting step in the life history of the SCRA.

References:

The News Item (Mt. Carmel/Shamokin Newspaper)

Tom Zamboni, SCRA president

Dr. Carl Kirby, Department of Geology, Bucknell University

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