TROUT RUN - The latest ways to measure any negative impacts to water quality from natural gas development are being revealed through earth disturbance impacts in Lycoming County.
Fifty remote water quality monitoring network stations provide continuous monitoring designed to remotely track water quality conditions in northern portions of the Susquehanna River Basin. They measure for temperature, specific conductivity, pH and turbidity.
Five of the 50 are located in Lycoming County, said Paul Swartz, executive director of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, during the Rose Valley Mill Creek Watershed Association annual membership meeting Tuesday night at the fire hall.
Three stations in the county revealed earth disturbance from the natural gas development activities: Larry's Creek station, Gray's Run station and Little Pine Creek station.
At Larry's Creek station, there has been a documented incident related to a bentonite (a type of clay) release to the creek above the station from an accident during pipeline construction as a result of drilling under the streambed.
"The data ... was able to alert the water supplier, and contains a full data record of the turbidity spikes from the material being released into the creek," Swartz said. "The incident is currently under investigation from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission."
A few recent incidents have been reported related to pipeline construction on state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources lease tracts in the water in Gray's Run station. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission staff is coordinating with the department to review the collected data.
In Little Pine Creek station, a few recent incidents have been reported related to pipeline construction and surface spills on the DCNR-leased tracts in the watershed. Commission staff is coordinating with the department to review the collected data.
The other two stations, Blockhouse Creek and Larry's Creek, require further study because the water chemistry results differ from other watersheds in the same ecoregion.
Swartz also talked about the existing and proposed water withdrawal policy.
The commission regulates large surface and groundwater withdrawals and consumptive uses to help avoid water conflicts, protect public health, regulate flows and control stream quality, consider economic development factors, protect fisheries and aquatic habitations and protect the Chesapeake Bay.
The existing policy - Passby Flow Guidance - requires a passby flow condition if the proposed withdrawal is more than 10 percent of the naturally continuous augmented seven-day, 10-year low flow of the stream or river. When the natural flow is equal to, or less than, the prescribed passby flow, no water may be withdrawn from the water source, which will allow the entire natural flow to pass the point of withdrawal.
The new proposed low flow protection policy will use monthly flow statistics versus annual averages to be more protective of smaller streams, which usually are more stressed during low flow periods.
"Seasonal flow recommendations are preferred to year-round flow recommendations as ecosystem flow needs are naturally seasonal," Swartz said. "These flow recommendations, based on the Susquehanna River ecosystem, are one of the original motivations that triggered revisions to the commission's existing policies to instream flow protection."
The commission also will impose a passby flow, unless it determines that a proposed withdrawal is too low in magnitude in comparison to the natural flow of a stream or river to have any appreciable effect.