Water Quality Improvement
Despite abundant forests and protected land in the headwaters and natural areas throughout its middle section, the Loyalhanna Creek Watershed is impacted by a series of challenges.
Current pollution concerns include abandoned mine drainage, sedimentation, nutrient loading and riparian habitat destruction. Each poses a different problem with a different solution. LWA is involved in projects that are working to address each of those challenges.
Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD)
Most of the Loyalhanna Creek Watershed is underlain with the Pittsburgh coal seam, which is part of the Monangahela formation. This seam of coal was heavily mined in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Communities throughout the area appeared where coal mines were located. By the 1920s, coal resources were depleted and many mines were abandoned. Water was left to fill and drain from the mines. It is this draining water that created, and continues to create, water pollution problems in the Loyalhanna Creek Watershed.
The formation of AMD occurs when rocks in the abandoned mines are exposed to water and oxygen. Through a series of chemical reactions, minerals from the exposed rocks are dissolved and carried with the water out of the mine. Because of the reactions that occur, the water draining from the mines can be very acidic (pH 2.0-5.0) or close to neutral (pH 6.0-7.0). It will also carry with it different metals in different concentrations. The most common metals found in the Loyalhanna Creek tributaries are iron and aluminum. The characteristics of the AMD will vary depending upon the geology and hydrology of the area from which it originates. To learn more about the chemistry of AMD, visit the Western PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation Website at www.amrclearinghouse.org.
Current AMD Treatment systems maintained by LWA include:
Upper Latrobe AMD Treatment Project
A $500,000 Growing Greener II project, the construction of a full-scale passive treatment system was completed in 2010. Located on four acres of ground in the heart of Latrobe, PA, this project involved the design and construction of three large settling ponds and an expansive wetland area to allow for natural filtration of the metals contained in a 500 gallon per minute AMD discharge. A unique aspect of the project involved the pre-planning of sludge removal for future operation and maintenance cost savings. System Design: Iron Oxide Recovery, Inc., Robert Hedin. System Construction: C.M. Construction, Larry Roskiak.
Saxman Run AMD Treatment and Hydroelectric Project
In 2005, LWA began an innovative project to develop a system that collects the AMD flow from the Upper Saxman Run Discharge located near the intersection of Route 981 and Industrial Drive in Latrobe, and conveys it through an 1,800 foot pipeline to a site near the Latrobe Wastewater Treatment facility. At the end of the pipeline, the water passes through a micro-hydroturbine where it is capable of generating approximately 3 kW of electricity. The first of its kind in Pennsylvania, this project was completed in June, 2010. System Design: Paul C. Rizzo Associates. System Construction: R&L Development Company, Inc.
Friedline Mine Successive Alkalinity Producing System at Powdermill Nature Reserve
Constructed in 1997, LWA worked in collaboration with Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Powdermill Nature Reserve to construct this pilot system to treat a small, acidic AMD discharge stemming from an old house coal mine located at the former Friedline Mine Site on the Reserve.
Erosion is a common problem throughout the entire Loyalhanna Creek Watershed. It occurs where water has the ability to scour away at exposed soil, and will carry it to alternate locations. The speed of water and amount of plant cover or vegetation both influence the rate and severity of erosion. Sedimentation occurs when excess solids enter waterways due to stream bank erosion, road run-off and soil loss from agricultural areas. Many streamside landowners have removed streamside vegetation, thus enabling stream bank erosion to occur. Plants and trees growing along stream banks hold soil in place and slow the velocity of flowing water. It is critical to ensure that stream banks are covered with adequate vegetation to help prevent erosion and sedimentation on the stream bottom.
The presence of excess sediment on stream bottoms can cause a variety of problems for aquatic life. It coats habitat and food sources that are critical for fish and insects living within the stream. In addition, sediment will often be deposited in areas that are not convenient causing waterways to seek alternate routes. This may cause flooding or other challenges.
Working with a coalition of organizations, including Forbes Trail Trout Unlimited, PA Fish and Boat Commission, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and Westmoreland Conservation District, LWA has successfully implemented over 50 streambank restoration projects throughout the upper and middle Loyalhanna Creek Watershed. Projects involve the construction of rootwads, rock and log vanes, and sawtooth deflectors to restore the damaged banks to reduce sedimentation, while creating stream habitat for fish and other inhabitants.
In 2014, LWA and partners finished a three-year effort to improve nearly four miles of the Loyalhanna Creek mainstem degraded from years of erosion. The "Loyalhanna Creek Stream Improvement Project" focused on 12 different sites along the Loyalhanna is it flows through Ligonier Borough and Ligonier Township, including the delayed harvest fishing area, with a goal of improving the water quality of this trout-approved waterway while increasing the visibility of this stream as a recreational tourism opportunity in the Laurel Highlands.
For more information on any of these projects, or to report an erosion concern on your property, contact the LWA Project Manager.
Marcellus Shale Gas Exploration
To Review LWA's Policy on Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Drilling that was adopted June 21, 2011, click here. LWA is part of the Laurel Highlands Marcellus Shale Monitoring Project, a collaborative effort with the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy, Kiski-Conemaugh Stream Team, Mountain Watershed Association and Somerset Conservation District. As the number of Marcellus shale well sites rapidly increases across our region, we want to protect the waterways near drilling sites, as well as the over 2,500 miles of streams flowing throughout the Loyalhanna Creek Watershed. One step to monitor water is to install Solinst dataloggers downstream from Marcellus well sites; these data loggers will take readings of water temperature, water level and conductivity, 24/7.