LOCK HAVEN - Amy Wolfe displayed a map of Central Pennsylvania, showing two versions of the Susquehanna River over three decades apart.
One was red - indicating a "dead" river with little or no aquatic life and high contamination due to acid mine drainage.
The other - the more modern version -was blue, suggesting an amazing decrease in pollution, a miraculous increase in the health of the river and a substantial increase in aquatic life.
Wolfe, director, of Trout Unlimited's Eastern Abandoned Mine Program,. and Scott Koser, watershed specialist for the Clinton County Conservation District, highlighted the successes and initiatives at Thursday's meeting of the county commissioners.
Between the red and the blue, the two said, were years of work by state agencies, nonprofit organizations and dedicated watershed associations, all focusing on the cleanup of acid mine drainage from abandoned mines.
While all the the Susquehanna has seen some improvement, from the headwaters in Cambria County to the Chesapeake Bay, Wolfe said the most significant changes have been seen in the central section that runs through Clinton and nearby counties.
Wolfe pointed to a 1998 fishery survey near Hyner that found only three species in the West Branch.
She then contrasted that with a survey conducted in 2009 that found 16 species at the same location, and a 3,000 percent increase in catch rates.
What's more, one of the more damaged tributaries and watersheds, Tangascootac, "is on the verge of recovery" and will likely see additional improvement in the next five years, she said.
"This is the next success story in Pennsylvania," Wolfe said. "We're looking forward to removal from the impaired stream list."
Koser said Tangascootac was the site of a 1998 stream improvement project that turned out to be faulty, so the conservation district undertook a remediation project that was completed in October of 2008.
Next year, he said, there will be an effort to install three additional projects on Kettle Creek watershed tributaries, and they should go a long way toward restoring the stream and watershed to health.
"Our years of our hard work are paying off, thanks to thousands of hours spent by the dedicated volunteers of the Kettle Creek Watershed Association (KWCA) who have helped make this happen," Wolfe added.
Another highlight of the 2010 season, she said, was a mine pool stabilization that "reduced the potential for a blowout of up to 38 million gallons of severely polluted acid mine drainage into Kettle Creek and the West Branch."
A once-biologically dead section of the Middle Branch Kettle Creek has renewed life, in the form of young brook trout and an increase in stonefly and caddisfly activity in that section, another sign of healthy water quality, she said.
But the work is not yet done, Wolfe said.
Some 1,205 miles of streams in the West Branch are impaired by acid mine drainage. Nearly 75 percent of the watershed is located within the Pennsylvania Wilds region, a focus of eco-tourism and outdoor recreation.