Work on a large habitat improvement project near Pinecroft, in Blair County, concluded on Aug. 2 one day ahead of schedule. The project is part of an ongoing effort by the Little Juniata River Association to correct streambank erosion and stop sediment from entering the Little Juniata River a Class A Wild Trout Stream for much of its length. The Little Juniata River is a regular destination for Centre County trout anglers.
This project the fourth such LJRA effort in three years tackled three of the worst erosion areas. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission designed the corrective measures and also directed the construction.
Fran Camaroto Excavating, of Williamsburg, supplied the equipment and manpower to dig log trenches, move logs, place stone and re-contour the site. Volunteers from the LJRA, as well as the Spring Creek and John Kennedy chapters of Trout Unlimited, connected hemlock logs with rebar, nailed thick oak planking to the logs and mulched and planted the disturbed areas. At least a dozen volunteers worked during each of the three days.
Volunteer Cliff Wurster detailed the project.
At the first site, we built a 250-foot modified mudsill with cribbing and one log vane, Wurster said. Five root wads were added for fish cover. At site two, we installed 140 feet of modified mudsill with cribbing, and site three involved two log vanes, 100 feet of cribbing and a stone deflector at the tail end. In total, over 300 tons of limestone were placed, 120 logs were pinned and thousands of board feet of oak planking were nailed to the logs.
This is a great partnership with the Little Juniata River Association, said Tyler Neimond, Southeast- Southcentral Stream Habitat manager for the PFBC. In three days, we restored and protected over 500 feet of eroding streambank and improved the fish habitat.
The contractor, Fran Camaroto, is so efficient. He has done enough of these projects that he needs little direction. He is also willing to spend extra time to go above and beyond. For example, he added extra root wads here to improve fish habitat.
According to LJRA president Bill Anderson, a recent Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection study found that the upper Little Juniata River has been impaired by sediment and excessive phosphorus.
The Altoona Water Authority is correcting the phosphorus problem and should have the infrastructure online by late next summer to reduce the phosphorus load in their sewage treatment plant discharge by 95 percent. We are working on the sediment problem, Anderson said. The stated goal of our organization is to stop all sediment from entering the Little Juniata.
Stream sediment reduces the aquatic insect population that trout and bass depend on for food and it smothers trout eggs, therefore limiting the wild brown trout population. Sediment can come from many sources, but Anderson thinks that he has the main cause identified on the upper Little Juniata.
The major cause of river sediment here is definitely streambank erosion, Anderson said. In 2010, I happened to be up here along the river during rising stream conditions the water entered this eight-foot tall undercut streambank flowing clear and left the turn muddy. I saw large chunks of soil cut from the bank by the water. The stream was eating its own streambank.
Project coordinator Joe Boston explained how the repair process came about. The effort to identify eroded banks in the upper Little Juniata started with a suggestion from Bill Anderson to me in October of 2010. Wurster, Art Kempf, Jim Litrun and I walked the 1.4 miles of the river from Lower Riggles Gap Run Bridge up to the Easterly Waste Treatment plant and identified eight locations where bank erosion was severe. Measurements were made at each location and photos were taken.
Anderson added, These problem areas were prioritized so that if funding became available, we could tackle the worst problems first. Our goal was and still is to fix all of them.
To better measure the effect of improvement on the project areas, a macroinvertebrate study was done in April, 2012, with donated expertise by Jen Farabaugh of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Electro-shocking, to survey the fish present, was provided gratis by biologist Bob Carline in June. According to Boston, additional sampling is planned for September and a trout redd study will be done each fall.
Both Anderson and Boston thanked the habitat crew from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the volunteers and the contractor for a job well done.
Previous projects corrected erosion at three sites within the upper watershed just below the Altoona Easterly sewage treatment plant discharge, behind Dollar General store in Bellwood, and a badly-eroded power-line crossing in the Pinecroft area.
According to Anderson, funding for their August 2012 project came from a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant of $72,000. This requires that 40 percent of the funds be matched by the LJRA. The organization accomplished that with volunteer labor, discounted stone from New Enterprise Stone and Lime, materials purchased and PFBC assistance.
Funding for their previous three projects came from the John Kennedy Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the First Energy Foundation, the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Some question whether these projects will withstand floods, Anderson observed. In December 2010, with our first project just a month old, the upper Little Juniata River had its fourth highest flood event in history, and the project held up perfectly.
The streambank where Anderson watched mud enter the river is now tapered to the waters edge, protected with large limestone rocks and planted with grasses and native shrubs. The LJRA is currently seeking additional funding to target the next sediment-causing area, while the PFBC Stream Habitat crew is off to work on their next stream a Trout Unlimited project on Fallings Spring Run, near Chambersburg.
Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the PA Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com.