Pennsylvania Legacies #217: An Ounce of Prevention

Providing clean drinking water is easier, and cheaper, when communities are proactive about tackling contaminants upstream. A new grant program in southeastern PA, administered by PEC with funding from Aqua Pennsylvania, aims to do just that.

A new grant program administered by PEC with funding from Aqua Pennsylvania will fund small-scale projects in Delaware and Chester counties aimed at improving drinking water quality at the source. Four organizations in the Chester, Ridley, and Crum Creek watersheds outside Philadelphia were selected for the inaugural round of funding under the The Protect Your Drinking Water program.

Those groups will receive grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 for projects involving green stormwater infrastructure, floodplain management, water quality monitoring and reporting, and public outreach. When it comes to drinking water, preventing contamination upstream is critical to easing the downstream burden on water treatment facilities. It’s also an opportunity to educate the public about their local watershed and how they can play an active role in protecting it.

Willistown Conservation Trust (WCT), a small nonprofit land trust in Chester County, plans to use its grant for a water quality monitoring program on Ridley, Crum, and Darby creeks. Staff will study how the proliferation of impervious surfaces like roadways, parking lots and rooftops is affecting local water quality.

“Some of the big issues we look at are issues like road salt application in the wintertime creeping into our streams and causing elevated contamination throughout the year,” said Lauren McGrath, Director of WCT’s Watershed Protection Program.

The funding will help to provide a more detailed picture of what’s happening in the creeks and allow WCT to provide recommendations. Already, the nonprofit has been working with municipalities to switch from rock salt to brine application in the winters and educating homeowners and park managers on the benefits of native plants to reduce runoff.

As McGrath explained, “the healthier we can keep our waterways, the less money needs to go into clearing and creating safe drinking water for our residents.”

The public can get involved with water quality monitoring in the area through the Darby Creek Community Science Monitoring Program. To learn more, visit DarbyCreekCommunityScience.com.

Education is central to the mission of Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation in Newtown Square, another grant recipient. The 18th-century living history farm is located within Ridley Creek State Park.

“It was a land grant by William Penn,” said Sarah Lerch, Program Director at the Plantation. “So it’s important that we talk about the past usage of the waterways, but protecting our land for the future as well. We want to continue this legacy of being good stewards of the land and encourage people, young people, especially, to continue being good stewards of the land, the animals, and the waterways.”

Funding from the Protect Your Drinking Water grant program will support educational programming, namely an annual Streams Learning Day and a STEM camp.  

Natural Lands awarded $10,000 Protect Your Drinking Water grant
Natural Lands is one of four organizations with projects funded in the inaugural round of Protect Your Drinking Water grants.

The nonprofit Natural Lands manages more than 40,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. At their Hildacy Preserve, along Crum Creek in Delaware County, farmland has been converted to native grass meadows that provide crucial natural habitat. Crum Creek is also the leading source of drinking water for the county’s residents.

Mike Coll, who manages the preserve, says that one of the biggest issues to the health of the ecosystem, and therefore to local drinking water, is an overpopulation of deer.

“The quality of water in general, and therefore drinking water, is certainly a product of the ecosystems that the water is coming from,” Coll said. “Healthier, more diverse ecosystems are going to provide more ecological services and have higher water quality, and that’s going to lead to better cleaner drinking water.”

But an uncontrolled deer population has decimated the area’s understory, prevented new saplings from growing into mature trees and allowed invasive species to proliferate. Money from the grant program will provide 600 linear feet of deer-proof fencing, which Coll will use to enclose native plants.

The enclosure will be near one of the preserve’s publicly accessible walking trails, allowing people to see the effect that deer have on the landscape.

“The type of density of cover that can exist without being browsed by deer is really stunning. So I can tell that from the smaller enclosures that I’ve planted, you know, and it’s just absolutely night and day on one side of that fence to the other,” Coll said.

The last group to receive funding in this first round of the Protect Your Drinking Water grant program is the Chester Ridley Crum Watersheds Association (CRC). The money will support the development of a rain garden in Upper Providence Township in Delaware County.

Stormwater runoff is the primary threat to clean drinking water in terms of pollution, explained Carly Lare, CRC’s Executive Director.

“Delaware County [has] so much developed area and impervious surface,” she said. “So with higher amounts of concrete, there is increased potential of pollution not getting soaked into the ground, but instead running off the concrete and into the water.”

The rain garden, part of an improvement plan for Ray Roche Park, will help to absorb stormwater before it reaches the watershed. CRC chose to place the rain garden in the park because it lies in a dense, urban area with high public visibility. There will be educational signs around the garden and the possibility of events throughout the year to teach people about green stormwater infrastructure. Lare hopes that passersby will be inspired by the project and emulate it in their own yards.  

The lesson that Lare wants people to keep in mind is this: “Everything you do on your property makes a big impact on water that is downhill from you.”

To learn more about what PEC is doing to improve and protect water quality, visit pecpa.org/water.

Episode Links

Josh Raulerson (00:01):

It is Friday, June 14th, 2024. I’m Josh Raulerson, and this is Pennsylvania Legacies, the podcast from the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: that is, the more effort you put into avoiding problems in the first place, the less effort you’ll need to put into dealing with them after the fact. That’s especially true of healthy watersheds and clean drinking water. Whether it’s managing excess stormwater or keeping contaminants out of waterways, you’ll always get the best bang for your buck by starting upstream. That’s the reasoning behind the new Protect Your Drinking Water grant program administered by PEC and funded by Aqua Pennsylvania. By making modest investments in things like green stormwater infrastructure, floodplain management, monitoring, and reporting, and public outreach, communities can help ease the downstream burden on water treatment facilities. The inaugural round of Protect Your Drinking Water grants was announced last month. Four organizations in the Chester, Ridley, and Crum Creek Watersheds outside Philadelphia will receive grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 for work to improve watershed health at the source. Today we’re going to hear from all four grantees, starting with Willistown Conservation Trust, which runs a water quality monitoring program in Ridley and Crum creeks. Lauren McGrath is the director of WCT’s Watershed Protection Program.

Lauren McGrath (01:30):

Willistown Conservation Trust is a small non-profit land trust located in southeastern Chester County. Our work is really focusing on protecting and maintaining open space. So while our heart is in protecting open spaces and keeping them green, our passion really lies with connecting people to those spaces and building meaningful relationships. So as an organization, we have an organic farm program that focuses on agri-ecology. We have a bird conservation program, our stewardship program, and then my role is in the watershed monitoring program. So I look really at that relationship between our protected open spaces and the impact and health on the health of Ridley, Crum, and Darby creeks.

Josh Raulerson (02:17):

Let’s talk about the creeks, then. What’s useful background information the people that don’t know the area might need to know, and what are the water quality issues and challenges you’re facing in those watersheds?

Lauren McGrath (02:27):

Yes. So the, the three streams that we focus on are Ridley, Crum, and Darby creeks. And so they originate just south of Route 30 and then flow through our protected open space, kind of in the Melbourne-Paoli-Berwyn area, and joined the Delaware Basin down by Chester City and John Hines National Wildlife Refuge. The big concerns are really this, this creeping development that’s coming from the lower portions of the watershed. So in our main focus area as an organization, we have over 7,000 acres of protected open space, but that’s not everything on the landscape. So we’re really working with our community to better understand how increased impervious surfaces like roadways, parking lots and rooftops can lead to decreases in water health. So some of the big issues we look at are issues like road salt application in the wintertime creeping into our streams and causing elevated contamination throughout the year.

Lauren McGrath (03:31):

We look at nutrient contamination, such as your weeding and feeding your lawn, if it’s right before a rainstorm, all of those chemicals will wash into our waterways. And we also look at things like sediment migration. When we have these big storm events in the summertime, how does that impact the health of our Cream creek locally and what’s happening downstream? So we’re really trying to connect how we have all of these incredible protected open spaces in the headwaters that don’t really exist in the lower portions of our three watersheds. So how can we extend the benefits of these open spaces to as far downstream as possible to really protect and support our neighbors, whether they’re people or non-people who are relying on these waterways for their, their livelihoods. And for safety purposes, the healthier we can keep our waterways, the less money needs to go into clearing and creating safe drinking water for our residents.

Lauren McGrath (04:31):

And I’m an aquatic ecologist, so I’m always focused on the non-human residents. And we’ve had some really exciting and positive things come out of our research over the last several years from documenting brand new previously unknown populations of freshwater mussels, which are amazing to have in our waterways. They do a lot of really excellent work to filter and purify our water, but they also cycle nutrients. They’re an important food source for other stream residents, not humans — please don’t eat freshwater mussels. But we, we’ve also documented river otters in Ridley Creek. And so that’s a great green flag that our protection efforts not just the trust, but other conservation organizations throughout many, many years have created suitable habitat and high quality water to support really sensitive biota. And if they can thrive here, it’s a good sign for our own consumptive purposes.

Josh Raulerson (05:32):

So this grant is supporting the water quality monitoring program, which you’ve been working on for, for some years. What have you seen in that time? What’s the direction things seem to be heading, especially with all the development you mentioned?

Lauren McGrath (05:46):

Yeah, so studying water quality takes a lot of time. So we go out every four weeks to nine sites in Ridley and Crum Creeks and collect all of this data. And it takes about five years to actually get a good understanding of what is seasonal variation versus what is an actual scientific trend. And one of the things we’ve been noticing is that water temperatures continue to increase and salt continues to be a constant problem year round. So in terms of this grant, it’s really going to support the ongoing research we have now funding for 15 additional months of water chemistry monitoring, which will help us get an in-depth view of what’s happening in the creeks and allow us to provide targeted recommendations to people on the landscape. So we’ve worked speaking with different municipalities asking for consideration of switching from rock salt application to brine application, which reduces the amount of salt put onto the landscape. We’ve spoken with homeowners and park managers about increasing native plants on the landscape, which can help increase water infiltration into our soils and reduce the amount of runoff entering our, our waterways. So there’s engineering solutions, there’s biologic solutions, and it’s going to take all of us working together for, you know, a long time to see a reduction in a lot of the issues that we’re just now starting to quantify.

Josh Raulerson (07:24):

And so you started off talking about the mission of connecting people with watersheds and feeling some sense of stewardship and ownership. And you were just talking about how the data you’re collecting give you some really concrete talking points when you’re communicating with the public. So looking beyond that outreach and education component, what else do you do to communicate with watershed residents, the two-legged ones anyway, and businesses and stakeholders about what you’re seeing in the watershed? And is there a role, I mean, is there like a citizen science role for the public and the actual research?

Lauren McGrath (07:56):

Oh, yeah. One of my favorite things is actually community science. So we have the Darby Creek Community Science Monitoring Program. We now have over 40 volunteers working throughout the Darby and Cobb Creek watershed. They go out every four weeks the same timeline as myself and my team. And they’re looking at a really similar suite of water chemistry parameters. So they’re looking at salt temperature conductivity, which is kind of a generalized indicator of declining water quality and pH. And then they submit all of the data to our online portal and we visualize it for the general public to use. So this is a project that is collaboration based with the Derby Creek Valley Association and with technical support from Stroud Water Research Center. So there’s always opportunities for the public to get involved, get in the water, and right now that project is limited to the Darby and Cobbs Creek Watershed, but one of my long range goals is to extend it into Ridley and Crum as well because there’s a lot going on in the water and just one pair of eyes is not enough to capture the dynamic nature of these ecosystems.

It’s a cool project, and you can check it out at DarbyCreekCommunityScience.com.

Josh Raulerson (09:23):

Next, let’s hear from Sarah Lerch, program Director at Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation in Newtown Square, which offers a wide range of educational and outreach activities focusing on land and water stewardship.

Sarah Lerch (09:38):

We are an 18th century living history farm located within Ridley Creek State Park. What we do there is we bring the past to life. We focus on the education interpretation, preservation, but most importantly through participation in 18th century historic agricultural skills that made life possible in the past. We have a fully functioning, working farm with animals, crops, historic buildings, and we invite the visitors and students to come through the farm, be farmers for us for the day, learn these skills and participate in the farm work.

Josh Raulerson (10:13):

What is the connection for you between historic preservation and associated programming and environmental and watershed protection restoration? Where do those things come together for you?

Sarah Lerch (10:23):

Of course. We show historic skills, of course, but also it’s a goal for us to make the past relevant to now. So one of the big conversations we have when we’re showing historic agricultural skills in particular, is how the past was not necessarily organic or sustainable farming like we might think because it was diff it looked different than what we do today. So one of our goals is to talk about sustainability in a different way, how that’s different from the past, how we can learn from the past, both the challenges and the solutions that were presented and how that might fit for kind of a modern agricultural world. So some of the things we do on the site have a more modern fit to it. So we intentionally overgrow some of our crops like potatoes, so we donate them to the food pantry.

Sarah Lerch (11:09):

We try and be part of the community as well. We are along Ridley Creek State Park, so where one of the places where the original founders built the site. It was a land grant by William Penn, was along the beautiful Ridley Creek. So it’s important that we talk about the past usage of the waterways, but protecting our land for the future as well. We want to continue this legacy of being good stewards of the land and encourage people, young people, especially, to continue being good stewards of the land, the animals, and the waterways. So one of the connections and partnerships we’ve had over the past couple of years is with Willow Town Conservation Trust, Edgmont Township and CRC. So about three years ago, this was the third annual one. In May, we started doing Streams Learning Day, where we hosted CRC and Lewistown Conservation Trust in partnership with Edgmont Township to come out and for a free community program, bring people into the stream and learn about stream health, what makes stream healthy, and how can you recognize that and how in your community you can help to continue to keep your waterways clean.

So we kind of merge everything together with this past usage, the present usage, and then talking a lot about how we as people today can be future stewards more than the people in the past.

Josh Raulerson (12:22):

And before we talk about more in depth about the programming and, and what comes across and what people are learning from those experiences, a little bit about the situation you’re in ecologically, if the creek is not just at the heart of your, of your site, but also of your mission. What are the water quality challenges that Ridley Creek is, is up against?

Sarah Lerch (12:42):

Of course. And Lewistown Conservation Trust knows this best as well because they do sampling in different parts of the creek along different locations, and we’ve gotten great reports that the stream is quite healthy. But one of the challenges we have as an organization it’s actually a recent challenge that was brought to our attention. We had a water main break under the creek in September of last year, and one of those challenges, we are an 18th century farm, but we provide modern care to our animals as well as modern guests on site. You know, they want running water, running restrooms. Same with our staff as well. The ability to do 18th century work, but modern safety in cleanliness standards as well. And we found that we had to kind of blend the necessity of getting a fix for water on our site with the challenges of working around the environmental protections of the creek.

So how do you can, how do you do this construction project in a sensitive and mindful way in connection with all of the moving parts? So the state of Pennsylvania, the park the EPA and then the construction workers as well. So finding, how do you prioritize again, the quality of the stream and maintaining that help? While, at the same time, the necessity of bringing water to our farm. So that’s an ongoing challenging conversation about how do you move the stream’s waterway that it still is healthy, it doesn’t impact our programming, how quickly can we expect the stream to recover? So kind of that combination of environmental programming with that blend of kind of necessities that we have to face.

Josh Raulerson (14:15):

It’s interesting in that, you know, obviously you’re not building strip malls, but the development pressure that is causing issues elsewhere in the watershed, lots of places you know, you’re not exempt from that either to the extent that you exist in the 21st century.

Sarah Lerch (14:28):

Correct. I mean, there have been times where we’ve had a drought and we’ve needed to use a pump to pump water from the creek up to our crop field. So how do we use it in a different way or making sure our animals have access to the creek, but is that healthy or the best, you know, for our horses to go down to the creek, they could damage the kind of ecological balance that’s there ’cause they’re used to going for buckets. So kind of all of these things that we have to think about as both the 18th century farm, a public farm as well with kind of animals and crops and actively working. So it’s kind of a lot of considerations that blend together. And again, the heart of that is our mission, our educational mission. So we’re open and trying to educate people about what we’re doing and being very transparent of some of those challenges, like a water main break that needs to be fixed on a historic farm and what that means for the stream and the process and, you know, our programs as well.

Josh Raulerson (15:22):

So, okay, tell me more about the programs and how do you connect those dots for the people that are participating? How, how do these issues relate to their daily lives, residents of the area, or maybe visitors you know, as, as people living in 2024, what’s the connection for them?

Sarah Lerch (15:35):

Of course. So we started with the Streams Learning Day connecting with Lewistown Conservation Trust Edgmont Township and CRC. So that was kind of our starting point and entry as a historic site into kind of this realm of more of these modern environmental conversations. Again, blending our past on the site, talking about the historic usage of the waterway and blending that for people. And then we’ve really expanded out and made stream education a part of some of the other programs we were already doing in terms of STEM education. So in July we’re hosting a STEM 18th century STEM camp at the site, which focuses on kind of science and technology of 18th century skill. And last year we brought out Willistown Conservation Trust, again, very good partners with us to do streams programming with the kids. So complimenting this idea of water quality.

Sarah Lerch (16:27):

So one of the things we do is we test the well water and talk about the well water versus the creek water how to keep them both clean and safe. We talk about 18th century water filters actually, and have the kids make water filter with carbon wool and some sand and talk about what that means in the 18th century. What people’s concerns of cleanliness of water were then versus cleanliness of water today and how that’s an important thread throughout history and for future protection as well. And then we also have a back to School Science Day and August, which is a public event on the weekends. So we take some STEM camp activities, do it for the public, and again, focusing on the water quality of, again, this historic, for instance, modern connection. We have different water sources on the farm.

Talk about why that’s important, why is building a well important? And then for the adults in particular, we also talk about why is brewing and alcohol so important to the 18th century? Why do we have an orchard that will do cider pressing and turn that into alcoholic cider? You know, why is beer brewing so important in a staple in the 18th century? And some of that has, a lot of that has to do with the water quality. So we’re able to kind of tie everything into kind of both modern kind of the blend of the past and the present, and then again, empowering people to really think about these connections for the preservation of our waterways and land for the future. So kind of a fun way to bring kind of every different, all ages in to connect about how they can be good students of the land.

Josh Raulerson (17:59):

So these programs are well established. I think the Protect Your Drinking Water grants will support ongoing work. Are there any new things coming or things you’ve got planned that that might play into this funding or vice versa?

Sarah Lerch (18:11):

Of course, you’re right. The funding is serving the foundation for some programs we have and allowing us to expand them even further. So the funding allows us to continue the Streams Learning Day, which has been incredibly popular and successful and proud to say that it will be successfully funded into its fourth year next year, as well as the STEM camp. We’ve been looking to expand that more and include more of the waterways education. So that’s been huge as well as the Baptist School science state to ensure not only that these programs continue with us, but including more the waterways protection. So we were doing some of the science and technology, so food science, dying simple machines, and that really allows Ridley Creek to be a permanent part of these programming moving forward. So it’s very exciting for us to be able, again, to make this the found, take a foundational program and expand on it and make these changes permanent for future programming.

Josh Raulerson (19:09):

Great. Well, Sarah Lerch from Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, thank you so much for your time.

Sarah Lerch (19:14):

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Josh Raulerson (19:20):

Moving now to the Hildacy Preserve, operated by Natural Lands along Crum Creek in Delaware County. We’ll learn about plans to restore the creek’s floodplain ecosystem by removing invasive plants and keeping out deer, which present the biggest obstacle to reestablishing native species. Here’s Mike Coll, who manages the preserve on behalf of Natural Lands.

Mike Coll (19:44):

Natural Lands is a, a nonprofit organization with 40 preserves open to the public in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have over 20,000 acres of land that we manage, and most of it is open to the public. I, as the manager of the Hildacy Preserve, manage also the grounds of the office. This is our main office. The headquarters of Natural Lands is here. Hildacy was a property that we inherited from Hilda and Cyril Fox, who were conservation minded folks. They were the owners of a farm here, and they didn’t want to see their land developed, so they willed it to us, and I’m certainly glad that they did.

Josh Raulerson (20:25):

You’re working on a deer exclusion zone on the preserve. Can you talk a little bit about what, I mean, what is the impact of deer on the preserve grounds and on the watershed generally? How does that affect drinking water in the Philadelphia area?

Mike Coll (20:39):

Sure, sure. So it might take me a little bit to get there to drinking water, but the quality of water in general, and therefore drinking water is certainly a product of the ecosystems that the water is coming from. And healthier, more diverse ecosystems are going to provide more ecological services and have higher water quality, and that’s going to lead to better cleaner drinking water. When we’re talking about the ecosystems in this region, the Mid-Atlantic region, particularly here at Hildacy, you know, in, in Delaware County where you have so much development, there are a lot of challenges, namely invasive plants and over browsed by white-tailed deer are probably the top two or maybe fragmentation of those habitats. Also, white-tailed deer are hugely overpopulated here to the point where they decimate the understory. Basically anything that’s growing under the height of, you know, four feet is browsed by deer.

Mike Coll (21:43):

And what that means for me is that everything that I plant, trees, shrub, pretty much all of my plantings need to be protected from deer in one way or another. Otherwise I’m just feeding them and it’s never going to be able to help the ecosystem the way, the way that I want it to. Usually that includes individual cages, sometimes tree tubes, sometimes smaller enclosures. I’ll make 25 foot by 25 foot squares where I can plant a bunch of trees or shrubs inside of that. This is, you know, an opportunity to have a larger area that’s enclosed from deer. And when you get, start to get to larger areas like this size, basically anything over the 25 foot by 25 foot is my rule of thumb. You need to have higher fencing. So when I make a small enclosure or when I’m doing caging, I can get away with four or five foot high fences.

Mike Coll (22:31):

But once you start to get the larger areas, deer can easily jump over that and they will. And so this fence is going to be eight feet tall, and that incurs a considerable amount more expense. A big impact of having over browsed by deer is that not only are almost all of the native species targeted by deer, but when you think about, say, a woodland ecosystem, the shrub layer or, or the ground layer includes not only small trees and shrubs, but also young trees. Another thing that happens because of deer is that when you have a woodlands with a healthy canopy of trees and you have overpopulation of deer, decimating the understory, they’re killing all of the young trees, the saplings that would be waiting there to fill up into holes that were created in the canopy as you had natural tree death, when you don’t have anything waiting there and you do have a, a mature tree that dies for whatever reason, there’s nothing to grow back up into the canopy and fill it back up.

Mike Coll (23:31):

And so what you end up getting there is more invasion, non-native species coming in and further deterioration of the already fragmented and stressed woodland ecosystems. But, you know, in, in this area we’re talking about where the fence will go. We’re in the, in the floodplain of Crumb Creek. So Crumb Creek here is coming out of the Springton Reservoir going in on one side, coming out on the other side. And where it comes out, that’s where Hildacy Preserve is. So we’ve done a lot of plantings in the buffer of the floodplain to try to impact the water quality in a number of different ways, including reducing runoff, lowering the temperature of the creek. Also thinking about the types of inputs that a creek will get. You know, if you have a bunch of non-native plants that are dropping their leaves into a freshwater ecosystem like a creek, in the same way that non-native plants can run into problems with insect populations on land, there are also the macro invertebrates that are working the in the water. And those non-native leaves are unlikely to support those populations. So for all of those reasons and more planting native species around the creeks and in the floodplains and having robust ecosystems there leads directly to better water quality.

Josh Raulerson (24:46):

Well, I think anybody that has ever kept a garden or even just a backyard, can appreciate the difficulty of keeping deer out of a space and especially a, a large you know, ecologically sensitive area. I’m curious about the design of the enclosure itself. You said it’s eight feet tall, how much land is enclosed? Anything else interesting about the way this will be constructed?

Mike Coll (25:07):

Well, it’s, it’s eight feet tall. The grant will provide for about 600 linear feet of fencing. So you figure 150 feet by 150 feet. For me, I, I’m looking forward to sort of designing that area to maximize that space. So I just met with the contractor earlier today and we went down to the site and we discussed how we were going to get the materials in there. Once I have staked out the exact size of that enclosed area where it will go, I will have this growing season to manage whatever invasives are currently in there. So we’re not going to plant that area until the fence is up, obviously, and, and not until next spring what we have actually planted to the ground, which is a good thing because it gives me the opportunity to really prep the area, which is something you don’t always get the opportunity to do.

Mike Coll (25:55):

And it’s always easier to control invasives before you have the stuff that you’re trying to plant and, and promote in there. And then, you know, I’ll really look at that, at that space and try to design different clusters of trees and shrubs and also other herbaceous plugs and seed mixes that may take up different parts of that. Try to think of it like an apartment building where you’re filling up all of the different floors. You know, you want things to live in the canopy, you want things to live in the basement, you want things to live all the way up there. So there’s the things that’ll grow on the ground. And there’s, and there’s canopy trees that’ll, you know, in a hundred years be very tall. And there’s everything in between that. So I’ll try to design with that in mind.

Josh Raulerson (26:36):

What kinds of invasives are you dealing with? I imagine you will have to continue to keep after them, even with the area enclosed, but maybe you’ll have a little bit less struggle if you don’t have deer coming and going.

Mike Coll (26:47):

Yeah, again, this, this property in particular because we’re in such a developed area, has a tremendous amount of invasive species pressure we’re all you need to do is look at what people plant in their yards everywhere. And you can find a list of invasive species that are present on this property. And you’re right that they will continue to come up in this area after I’ve removed them because birds will, can fly in and drop seeds in there and different things like that. But deer are also a, a large mover in of invasive species as they eat the seeds of these plants and then drop them in various places. And so by excluding them, I think I will have a lot less invasion in that area.

Josh Raulerson (27:32):

And I understand there’s a, an educational component to this as well. How, how are you hoping to model best practices and create awareness and better educate the public?

Mike Coll (27:41):

You know, it will be an excellent opportunity to talk to people about this just because it is near one of the walking trails here. And so it’ll be a very visible part of the meadow. And something I was talking to a colleague of mine about recently is that people, I guess mostly young people we’ll say, but maybe everyone now to a grander extent doesn’t know what an ecosystem without an overpopulation of deer looks like. You know, the, the type of density of cover that can exist without being browsed by deer is really stunning. So I can tell that from the smaller enclosures that I’ve planted, you know, and it’s just absolutely night and day on one side of that fence to the other. You know, all these things take time. And, and I’ll be able to talk to people about the process that I went through to get it, and we’ll be able to demonstrate a lot of the, the beauty of the, the native species that will be planted in there and the density of what would be without deer. I think another positive impact of this is that by having all these native species present, we also hope to sort of be sending the native seeds back out into the rest of the ecosystem, right? So that it’s not always non-native seeds that are being dropped by birds and deer elsewhere. You know, if we can sort of reach a tipping point of enough native species here, maybe we can even start overcoming that and have regeneration in other areas of native species.

Josh Raulerson (29:14):

And to close out this episode, let’s now meet Carly Lare, Executive Director of the Chester Ridley Crum Watersheds Association. The group’s planning to create a rain garden at a park in upper Providence Township, both to help manage storm water on site and to serve as a showpiece for green water infrastructure that could be implemented at any scale. Here’s my conversation with Carly.

Carly Lare (29:41):

We are based out of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, but we serve a large portion of Delaware County and about 11 municipalities in Chester County. So between the two counties, we serve 42 municipalities, and what we focus on is tree planting, riparian buffer implementation, different stormwater management practices, also string cleanup projects throughout the area, and education outreach for all of the different topics relating to water health. Everything we do is volunteer based, so we have five staff members right now, but we have close to 2,000 volunteers a year that are so energetic to get trees in the ground, to remove trash from our streams and to just learn about all the great things about the Chester Ridley and Crum Creeks. It’s mainly the volunteers that make it happen.

Josh Raulerson (30:30):

So this project we’re talking about today is addressing the storm water runoff issue. Can you talk about the impact of stormwater on your watershed?

Carly Lare (30:37):

Oh my goodness, yes. It’s, it’s huge and there’s always room to learn more and more, so of course I’m learning every day, but it’s the main issue that fresh water faces in terms of pollution. So when you’re walking through your everyday life and you see pollution on the ground, no matter what that pollution based on water flow, precipitation, moving pollution, we’ll end up in a body of water at some point. And that’s part of the big education we do at CRC. We want people to know that we are on a spot of land and based on how precipitation works and how storm water flows and elevation with the movement of water, that pollution can always end up in our waterways and negatively impact that water. So in Delaware County where we’re focused, we have so much developed area and impervious surface. So with higher amounts of concrete, there is increased potential of pollution not getting soaked into the ground, but instead running off the concrete and into the water.

Carly Lare (31:42):

So between salt, hard pollution like the plastic that we see at our stream cleanups, and everything else like fertilizer, it’s running into our streams very quickly. And like I said, specifically in our area with our high amount of development, it acts as a fast lane for all of those pollutants to end up in our creeks. So we’re seeing it to a very high extent. And the biggest focus right now we have is educating people on it so that they know when you’re in any spot, just think about where downstream or down elevation is from you, and that’s where that pollution will end up.

Josh Raulerson (32:17):

So the more of it you can catch upstream, the less trouble you have downstream. And that’s where homeowners have an important role to play.

Carly Lare (32:23):

Exactly. It’s really important to also remember, even if you can’t see a stream, it doesn’t mean that pollution where you are won’t end up in a stream. So right now I’m at the top of a hill and I can’t see a stream and it would take me about a 10 minute walk to go see a stream, but everything you do on your property makes a big impact on water that is downhill from you.

Josh Raulerson (32:45):

Okay. So how can rain gardens help, you know, mitigate those impacts upstream?

Carly Lare (32:50):

Yeah, yeah. Rain gardens are an awesome tool along with other storm water management practices. And similar to tree plantings that we do on a larger scale throughout the year, we really focus on repairing buffer implementation. And what makes repairing buffer implementation so important is that all of those trees have roots that soak up water before that water goes somewhere else. So a rain garden is that same principle. It’s putting a lot of plants in the same spot where you see a high amount of stormwater runoff or just water rushing through a property, and it puts a lot of plants in the same spot that can suck up the water before it goes to another spot. So that’s, to put it very simply. When we look at our watersheds, we like to find out hotspots where water tends to be moving at a faster rate and has the potential of picking up more pollutants.

Carly Lare (33:43):

So when you’re looking for a rain garden spot, you may be on a property that is 95% concrete and you have 5% that is a nice grass patch that is just lawn right now. But the great thing about lawn is the blank canvas to put in plants that may be more beneficial to soak up water that is coming from the concrete. So when rain lands on the concrete and the rain flows off the property at a fast rate, how can we change that lawn so that it can act as a resource for the property to actually mitigate its stormwater runoff? So rain gardens are an awesome tool, and especially when you can plant those rain gardens with a bunch of really awesome flowering, pollinator-friendly native plants that can also soak up water, then it is twofold, it acts as a habitat, but it also is a beautiful way to slow water down before it could have detrimental impacts on a waterway nearby.

Josh Raulerson (34:37):

And it’s quite attractive in front of a home. Is that part of the reasoning for having a demo project to kind of help people visualize, like this is what it could look like? I mean, are you, are you finding people are reluctant to part with the turf grass lawn set up?

Carly Lare (34:50):

Yeah, definitely. And I grew up in suburban Pennsylvania. Everybody has lawns and it’s kind of the normal, and it’s changing that normal. A rain garden can be really beautiful and if you plant native plants, it can actually self-sustain itself. So with a project that we’re trying to do, which we found an awesome spot in Upper Providence Township in Delaware County it’s Ray Roche Park and it’s a small park that I love and it also has high visibility in the community. So we found this spot so that it could be an example of what homeowners could emulate in their own properties, even if they have a tiny amount of space. The great part about rain gardens is that you can scale it up or down no matter how much space you have at your disposal. So I’ve seen examples of people doing tiny, just three feet by three feet, pollinator friendly water loving plants, and that alone can make a huge difference.

So with our project, we decided to pick a spot, doesn’t have a lot of space to work with in terms of a rain garden, but has a lot of stormwater that needs to be mitigated. And we’re hoping that in this project and by engaging volunteers and planting the rain garden and also putting a big focus on the education behind it, and hey, why did we pick this plant as opposed to a typical plant that you see landscapers put in that might be non-native, and why did we put the rain garden right here? So that volunteers, while they’re planting the garden and learning the best practices, they can trigger it in their mind that, Hey, I can emulate this at some scale, even smaller, even bigger on my property to make a difference where I live, too.

Josh Raulerson (36:25):

So you’ve got this great engaged community of volunteers and that’s, that’s where you start because They’ll actually do the hard work of putting in the rain garden—

Carly Lare (36:32):

Yes, thank goodness, <laugh>.

Josh Raulerson (36:33):

So I imagine those, that that’s kind of like the low hanging fruit. Those are the people that already have one foot in the tent, right? Yeah. How do you get the people that the concept of a rain garden is entirely new to them? How are you reaching those folks?

Carly Lare (36:44):

Yeah, that’s a great question. And you’re right. The volunteers who are coming out, they’re probably people who largely have heard of rain gardens, may even already have one. The fact that they’re willing to offer their time on an early Saturday morning to do a planting and move dirt, that kind of shows that they probably are already savvy to the practice we’re doing. But we also understand that we want to have a wider reach than just the volunteers coming out. So that’s one reason we picked the park in particular that we’re going to, it’s in a very population dense area. It’s right outside of Media Borough. It’s in walking distance to Media Borough and that downtown. And it is in the limited green space that this one particular portion of Upper Providence Township has. So it’s a very utilized space. By picking this particular park, it would offer high visibility because this is a highly utilized park.

Carly Lare (37:36):

And with that in mind, we’re putting educational signage up as well, that we’ll start at the first level and we’ll describe very basically what this project is and why it was implemented and why there’s no longer turfgrass in that spot. Past that, we’re also hoping to put together an educational campaign surrounding the project. So what this would look like is coming up with more creative, tangentially related educational events that could connect people back to that rain garden. So one thing CRC does is we do educational events throughout the year, and we try to have them be a very diverse array of topics so that we can get people engaged by meeting them where they are and what their interests are. So we offer a very wide array of events and maybe we have this rain garden planting project, but then a month later we could do an event at a brewery where we talk about pollinators and then we can do a snapshot of that project within that talk. And by doing that and having different events throughout the year, we’re hoping to engage different audiences as we go. We are also fortunate that there’s a great wealth of nonprofits in the area that have different focuses, and we’re hoping through different partnerships with other nonprofits in the project, we’ll be able to get the word out about how important implementing Rain Gardens is.

Josh Raulerson (38:57):

And so what’s the timeline for the project? When is the rain garden going in, and then how does the educational component play out after that?

Carly Lare (39:04):

Yeah, so with Rain Garden Plantings, the best time to plant is September and October. So we structure the entirety of our project around that. So throughout the summer I’m working with GreenWeaver Landscaping to put together a design and come up with the best plants for the project and also work with the township with the goal of recruiting and getting some hype around the actual Rain Garden implementation in September and October. The fun part is though, we have another 10 months after that to really build up the education and connect people back to that rain garden. So after that project happens, the project’s in the ground, but we’re just kind of getting started then because we’re going to build off of that with an educational campaign throughout the rest of our time. I’m hoping for us to lunch and learns where we can invite people via Zoom to do a walkthrough of the project so that while somebody’s at their corporate job maybe, maybe they have some say in what their company’s doing on their grounds. They can take a break at lunch and just do a fun walkthrough of the rain garden project, why we picked different plants after we already did the project. But like I said, we’ll also be doing other education outreach events like our brewery events and nature hikes and all that sort of thing, and we’ll connect those lessons to the individuals coming to our other events as well.

Josh Raulerson (40:20):

Well, Carly, thank you so much for your time today and good luck with the project.

Carly Lare (40:23):

Awesome. Thank you, Josh. It was so great talking and we’re really excited for it.

Josh Raulerson (40:31):

And that’s all for this episode of Pennsylvania Legacies. You can find out more about the Protect Your Drinking Water grant program and the project it’s funding via links in the web post for this podcast episode on PEC’s website. It’s at pecpa.org, pecpa.org. Our thanks to Aqua Pennsylvania for funding the program and to all four grantees for their outstanding efforts on behalf of Watershed Health and for appearing on this episode of the podcast. You can find all past episodes on that website, pecpa.org. Listen right there in your web browser if you prefer, or you can download episodes directly to your favorite podcast app on the website. You can also learn about PEC’s program and policy work across Pennsylvania, touching on everything from watershed protection and restoration to clean energy and climate, as well as our very exciting work to develop trails and grow Pennsylvania’s outdoor economy. It’s all on the website. One more time, pecpa.org. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with more Pennsylvania Legacy conversations. Until then, for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, I’m Josh Raulerson, and thanks for listening.

Featured image: michaelwm25, via Wikimedia Commons