WPEA Winner Feature: Paint Creek Regional Watershed Association

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.

Paint Creek Regional Watershed Association

While the coal mining industry fueled the Industrial Revolution and shaped the development of the region, it left a legacy of pollution with black coal refuse piles dotting the landscape and orange veins of water snaking along valley floors. Centering around the town of Windber, Somerset County, the Paint Creek Regional Watershed Association (PCRWA) formed in 2000 to combat abandoned mine discharges (AMD) and other sources of environmental degradation, educate the community about these issues, promote environmental recreation, and ultimately restore a healthy aquatic community to waterways within and downstream of its watershed. A river reassessment in 2007 highlighted the need for this work, when biological monitoring showed a “kill-zone” in the Stonycreek River.

Paint Creek photo 2
The Paint Creek Regional Watershed Association works to combat against abandoned mine drainage in both Windber and Somerset county.

The 38 square-mile Paint Creek Watershed straddles the Cambria/Somerset County line and is the fourth largest tributary to the Stonycreek River.

Today, whitewater enthusiasts frequently visit Paint Creek for a thrilling 2.7 mile ride through largely Class V rapids, and the Stonycreek Quemahoning Initiative is spearheading development of an interpretive walking trail along lower Paint Creek that would highlight the rich history of the area.

In 2002, the PCRWA hired a local water pollution biologist to complete the Paint Creek Restoration Plan, which documented every abandoned mine discharge in the watershed, prioritized the sources by stream impact, and provided recommendations and potential solutions that would heal the watershed. Stemming from this plan, PCRWA hosted an annual Watershed Awareness Day, sought to treat the Jandy discharge, and created and distributed watershed fact sheets. In partnership with the Kiski-Conemaugh Stream Team, it completed a Coldwater Conservation Plan for Little Paint Creek, which was the only trout-stocked fishery in the watershed.

PCRWA partnered with the Stream Team to install flow measuring devices and collect monthly water samples from the targeted discharges. They secured funds from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener grant program to design and construct three treatment systems for four AMD’s along Weaver Run.

A year after treatment of a major coal company discharge, macroinvertebrates were found colonizing the effluent of the discharge. Continued water quality monitoring supported the theory that Weaver Run might support trout. A stainless steel enclosure was built in which a stock of brook trout could swim and be monitored every day to ensure they were not experiencing stress. After two weeks of monitoring, the trout showed no negative effects and were released. The experiment was repeated in the fall and again, the trout survived and were released. The Windber Sportsmen’s Association added Weaver Run to its stocking schedule and in 2014 received its first official stocking of trout in more than 80 years.