WPEA Winner Feature: McKean County Conservation District

In the weeks leading up to the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council will feature each of this year’s four award winners. With the Environmental Charter School, McKean County Conservation District, Paint Creek Regional Watershed Association, and Sustainable Pittsburgh set to be honored at the May 27 ceremony at Pittsburgh’s Westin Hotel and Convention Center, check in each Friday for an in-depth look at each winner.

McKean County Conservation District

McKean County has 1,925 miles of waterways that are essential to the development of the county and the surrounding region. Today, the health of these waterways reflects the intensive use that has been imposed upon them.

McKean County photo 1 edit
The McKean County Conservation District Fish Habitat Improvement & Stream Restoration Program began in 2007.

Nearly 200 of those miles are significantly impaired by siltation caused by unchecked erosion from construction or development, fragmented riparian corridors, and certain agricultural practices. This silt degrades the aquatic habitat many organisms depend upon to obtain food, seek protection from predators or high water, and complete reproductive cycles. Additionally, many McKean County waterways are also impacted by nitrogen and phosphorus, primarily from farmland.

The McKean County Conservation District Fish Habitat Improvement & Stream Restoration Program addresses the extensive streambank erosion, denuded riparian corridors, and degraded fish habitat found throughout the county.

This county-wide program has proven very effective in reducing sediment-based pollution, improving habitat for aquatic species, educating private land owners, and assisting homeowners in resolving substantial erosion hazards previously left unaddressed due to project costs.

The primary objective of this program is to facilitate the functions of streams and riparian areas so that they are capable of supporting more diverse and sustainable aquatic and riparian wildlife communities. This has been achieved by installing in-stream fish habitat structures, reducing excessive sedimentation through streambank stabilization, and restoring riparian corridors through plantings of native trees and shrubs. The primary fish species targeted for improved habitat are brook, brown, and rainbow trout – regardless whether they are stocked or naturally reproducing wild fish.

Local landowners are also concerned with the lack of fish habitat as well as the sediment eroding from their streambanks. Each property was estimated to be losing an average of six tons of soil per year. The streams’ high flows cut the banks and threatened trees, farm land and yards, as well as depositing gravel bars downstream. This initiative has improved water quality and fish habitat by reducing stream sedimentation.

The program objectives have been accomplished by stream treatments that include the installation of various types of fish habitat structures in-stream to reduce erosive flow velocities, and to deflect the main flow off the banks and toward the center of the stream channel. Most of the sites have a combination of structures installed for the best results.

Stream restoration and habitat improvement has been extremely well received in the communities throughout the county where projects have been completed. Since the program began in 2007, 85 structures have been installed which stabilized 13,825 feet of streambank and prevented the loss of an estimated 985 tons of soils from those streambanks.

Riparian areas have been restored and new areas created through the planting of over 1,300 native shrubs and trees and streambank fencing projects.