Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues
Editor’s note: Melissa Reckner is one of 11 amazing women being honored during PennFuture’s 2020 “Women in Conservation” event on Oct. 8. For more information, and for ticket info, please click this link now!
Growing up along the Stonycreek River in northern Somerset County, I experienced a waterway that was orange, slimy, and largely devoid of life.
Thirty years later, I can go back to those riverbanks and overlook a much cleaner Stonycreek—one that harbors a growing diversity of fish, attracts whitewater enthusiasts from over a dozen states, and is often heralded as a “Cinderella” success story.
However, this fairy tale is far from over.
In 2018, I published the State of the Kiski-Conemaugh River Watershed: Community Shift, a document that quantified changes in this 1,888 square-mile watershed, which includes the Stonycreek River. This document shows how water chemistry and fish assemblages have changed in this basin’s major rivers and highlights the watershed organizations that work with local, state, and federal agencies to make streams healthier, net alkaline, diverse, and attractive.
Many people have commented how they did not think this could happen in their lifetime and proves that Mother Nature just needs a helping hand, which has come from countless professional and volunteer hours, millions of dollars, and dozens of projects.
While treatment systems have remediated a lot of Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD)—once the number one source of pollution in Western Pennsylvania - these systems require routine maintenance and do have life spans that must be addressed before they fail.
Flushing pipes, removing animal obstructions, replenishing compost and limestone, collecting samples, cutting vegetation, and similar chores are not necessarily fun tasks, but they are necessary in keeping these life-sustaining projects going. Even one day of failure could kill aquatic life, coat streams with iron and aluminum oxides, and ruin decades of work and restoration.
The work of ensuring this does not happen often falls to watershed associations, conservation districts, and similar organizations that don’t necessarily have the funds, expertise, or staff to see to these tasks.
Partnerships help alleviate the pressure, but many are in the same boat—trying to do a lot with a little and often with an aging volunteer base. And despite years of education and awareness, there is still a disconnect between those communities downstream—the ones receiving the benefits of labor completed in headwater streams with some contributors aligning their areas of interests to political, not geographic boundaries or grantors wanting to fund the new, hip project, when basic operations and maintenance are needed.
Watershed groups and similar organizations will continue to see to these tasks, while trying to be innovative, fresh, and creative, but they could use support through the gifting of individuals’ time, talents, and treasures. We all live in a watershed and there are many ways in which people may get involved.
People are needed to:
Everyone has a skill set that can be beneficial to conservation organizations. No doubt, picking up litter, for example, is not the most fun, but working with a great group of people makes it more enjoyable and the feeling of satisfaction afterwards is very rewarding.
It’s not all work and no play! Celebrations are necessary to pause and promote reflection on hard-fought accomplishments, recognize the story this work is fashioning, strengthen the sense of comradery that comes from working with awesome people, and share the joy in knowing the world is a little better because a watershed group believed it could make a difference. They are also an opportunity to look to the future, theorizing ways our environment and people’s connection to it could be stronger. Plus, you need days to reap the rewards of your work and restore your soul; maybe cast a line and do an informal “fish survey!”
I’ve been blessed to work and volunteer with organizations that spearheaded restoration projects and initiatives that have brought life back to my Stonycreek—a river that I still call home—and many more waterways, and I’m driven to see more stream miles restored.
There are a couple significant tributaries to the Stonycreek, for instance, that have seemingly insurmountable pollution problems, but I think fairy tales can come true with hard work, passion, and persistence.