Penn State finishing major sediment reduction project

Two tiers of gabion baskets line the storm water channel that leads into Duck Pond along College Avenue in State College. The area has seen major improvements to curtail erosion.
Two tiers of gabion baskets line the storm water channel that leads into Duck Pond along College Avenue in State College. The area has seen major improvements to curtail erosion. For the CDT

Most fall weekends, the Nittany Lion football team grabs the headlines.

However, Penn State has earned kudos from this writer for another reason. A project of importance to area anglers is reaching completion.

The university is putting the finishing touches on a $500,000 stream project that should result in long-lasting improvement for Thompson Run, Spring Creek and Bald Eagle Creek.

According to Larry Fennessey, a storm water engineer at the university, the rain falling on the 867 acres, or 1.35 square miles, of the core campus and most of downtown State College all flows into three large pipes. The runoff dumps into a channel leading to the Duck Pond across from Centre Furnace Mansion along College Avenue. The downtown drainage area includes a strip of land between College Avenue and Fairmont and West Nittany avenues, beginning southwest of Buckout Street and extending northeast.

“Since 50 percent of that area is impervious material (roofs, sidewalks, parking lots and roads), that amounts to a lot of runoff,” Fennessey said. “During a major rain event, flows at the Duck Pond can reach 600 to 800 cubic feet per second and velocities of 20 feet per second.”

Over the years, storm surge has resulted in about 1,000 feet of severely eroded stream bank.

“We try to do the right thing environmentally,” Fennessey said, with this project an example.

According to Fennessey, the university attempted to correct the problem in 1999, but regulatory agencies would not approve the use of rocks to stabilize the channel banks. Instead, in 2000, a “soft repair” was done, with the earthen banks tapered to the existing channel and covered with burlap.

“That lasted until our first major storm event, and the situation continued to worsen,” Hennessey said. “What we are doing this year is very much the same thing that we proposed to do in 1999.”

This time they have approval to use rock for what is hoped to be a more permanent solution. Work began in mid July.

A little history

The Duck Pond was a gift to the university by the classes of 1927-31, intended for swimming and ice skating. According to Fennessey, it was the largest single class gift in the school’s history. The spring flowed past the pond in its own channel until PennDOT relocated College Avenue in the late 1950s. However, the increased use of salt on the highways, as well as a greater prevelance of phosphate-rich detergents and lawn fertilizers, water quality began to decrease in the 1950s.

Trout Unlimited approached Penn State in 1977 and asked if the spring could be segregated from the pond, and a dike was built to keep the flows apart. The pond has been dredged four times, most recently in 2002. Flow, water quality and thermal data have been gathered in the past decade to help drive the current projects.

Back to the present

Starting in July, debris was cleared from the channel, and existing vegetation was removed to make way for approximately 1,000 feet of double-tiered gabion baskets on each side, and the bottom of the channel was lined with Reno mattresses. Reno mattresses and gabion baskets are woven metal wire containers that are filled with rock — in this case limestone — and sealed shut.

The project is expected to prevent erosion while slowing water velocity and trapping sediment, and allow water to percolate into the subsoils.It might not look aesthetic now, but the rock-filled baskets will soon be overgrown with vegetation.

“Ninety native trees — black willow, sycamore and silver maple — were planted a week ago,” project manager Kurt Coduti said. “We just finished with seeding and mulching. A mix of grasses and wildflowers was used, including purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, a type of sunflower, butterfly milkweed and others.”

This project is phase two of a larger initiative to repair the dike that separates the cold, clean water of Thompson Run from the Duck Pond, as well as to revitalize Duck Pond. Joe Humphreys and the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited were very involved in phase one, but the university hired an outside company for this phase because of potential hazards to volunteers.

According to Fennessey, phase three is in the works, though they first must evaluate the erosion and curtail sedimentation from flowing into Duck Pond and Thompson Run.

Trout Unlimited project coordinator Jim Lanning and project manager Coduti are pleased with the effort.

“It has been 3 1/2 months of work, but I am very happy with the results,” Coduti said. “The project will be beneficial for the water quality and storm water management at the Duck Pond and downstream.”

Jim Lanning agreed.

“I think that it is important to acknowledge,” he added, “that Penn State is doing the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time.”

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com