Grant aids ClearWater Conservancy stream restoration projects

Goldenrod and trees were planted by ClearWater Conservancy as part of a riparian buffer along a stream near Sharer Road in Harris Township on Tuesday, September 16, 2014.
Goldenrod and trees were planted by ClearWater Conservancy as part of a riparian buffer along a stream near Sharer Road in Harris Township on Tuesday, September 16, 2014. CDT photo

ClearWater Conservancy estimates that, about 100 years ago, a group of residents channelized Spring Creek to maximize field production between what is now Nittany and Oelbermann farms on Sharer Road in Harris Township.

What was once a wetland in the area became a stream that formed into two 90-degree angles from the channelization.

It was an unnatural change to the creek that, decades later, left that stretch of land flooded every spring.

It subsequently took sediment into the creek from the dirt and gravel of the road, once the water level went back to normal, conservation biologist Katie Ombalski said.

The conservancy, in partnership with numerous local organizations, was able to complete a project about two years ago to straighten the creek and install release culverts and an emergency spillway that prevents flooding and erosion to road and farmland.

Ombalski said that the project alone stabilized 8,000 feet of stream and established 15 acres of riparian buffer — a vegetated area that soaks up chemicals and sediment from nearby land use and prevents it from running into the waterways.

With a $250,000 grant that ClearWater received in July from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, similar projects could be done in the next couple of years — one that includes planting a buffer on Slab Cabin Run as part of the Musser Gap Greenway Project with Penn State.

It should be completed this fall, Ombalski said.

Ombalski said the mission is to restore damaged streams in central Pennsylvania, with a primary focus on Little Fishing, Penns, Shavers, Spring and Spruce creek watersheds, which are tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

Under the terms of the grant, ClearWater will use the funds to restore 20,000 linear feet of stream, install 10,000 feet of stream bank fencing to limit livestock access and remove invasive plants, replacing them with native trees in the stream side area.

The grant should last the conservancy about two years, Ombalski said.

ClearWater initiated its Riparian Conservation Program in 2004 to eliminate stream impairments caused by human impacts from agricultural, housing and industrial development, and to prevent additional streams from becoming impaired, Ombalski said.

The focus was to plant forested riparian buffers at several central Pennsylvania watersheds.

Projects have included the development of conservation and forest stewardship plans, extensive stream channel stabilization, in-stream habitat improvements, three dam removals, large riparian buffer plantings and agricultural best-management practices, Ombalski said.

To date, ClearWater has restored more than 73,000 linear feet of stream and planted 95 acres of riparian buffer, removed three dams and installed 36,000 linear feet of stream bank, Ombalski said. It also has made 168 fish enhancement structures and 16 stream crossings for livestock, she said.

Projects are funded by private and public sources, but it is an effort that will last forever with a “vision to eliminate all stream impediments in central Pennsylvania” that affect the environment and economy, Ombalski said.