Water & You Learning Center
Welcome to the Pennsylvania Highlands Water and You Learning Center
Scroll right and left to discover how we use water everyday, where that water comes from and how each one of us can help protect our drinking water and the water in our rivers and creeks for fish and other wildlife. Click around to find helpful tips, hints and more informative resources about specific issues and challenges.
Learning about Drinking Water
Indicator of Watershed Health: The public is aware of drinking water quality and engaged in protecting it.
Drinking water can either come from ponds and reservoirs or from underground aquifers. In the PA Highlands, the US Forest Service reports that over 200 million gallons of water a day is withdrawn from underground aquifers and surface water, with about half of that going directly to drinking water supplies for residents in the Highlands and outside of the Highlands. Learning about your drinking water supplies is important and water suppliers are required to send regular reports to consumers about the quality of their drinking water. These reports and more information is readily available to the public by contacting your water supplier, found online through the US Environmental Protection Agency's website. Private wells are not monitored, but there are many resources available to learn more about private drinking water wells. Learn more about Clean Water Act violations on the EPA's interactive map of Pennsylvania searchable by zip code.
Raising public awareness for where water and pollutants go and how it affects everyone.Photo by Amy Smith, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Limiting Run-off Though Green Infrastructure
Indicator of Watershed Health: Stormwater from roads and sidewalks is carefully managed, where possible using green infrastructure.
Green infrastructure recognizes how important natural systems are in cleaning stormwater and preventing flooding and tries to replicate them by building natural systems instead of culverts, detention basins and other more manmade structures. Visit the US Environmental Protection Agency's website to learn more about green infrastructure. Click to find out more about green streets initiatives around the United States. Learn more about the use of porous pavement in streets and sidewalks.
Green streets and parking lots that reduce run-off can help prevent flooding.Photo by Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Rain Barrels Help Keep Dirt and Pollutants Out of Our Creeks and Rivers
Indicator of Watershed Health: Community members are engaged in protecting water quality by managing run-off at home.
When it rains, water lands on our homes, roads and other "non-green" spaces. This water then runs off into creeks and rivers carrying dirt and pollutants. By collecting rainwater, it can be used to water flower gardens and trickle back into the ground, where it can be cleaned and stored. Using rain barrels and other small adaptations to your home's gutters and drainage helps protect water quality and quantity and can be a fun activity to share with your friends and family. Learn about rain barrel workshops near Philadelphia offered through the Philadelphia Water Department.
Restoration Projects Make Rivers Healthier
Indicator of Watershed Health: Watershed restoration projects are actively pursued in your community and funding is available.
The goal of watershed restoration is to bring a waterway back to its natural state if it has been previously degraded. Often times this requires looking at the entire watershed to evaluate many different issues, but good projects can have a long-lasting impact in fixing specific problems. Pennsylvania's Growing Greener program is a matching State grant program to assist in watershed restoration work. There are other great grant opportunities to fund watershed restoration provided through organizations like The Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds which supports the efforts of citizen groups, such as watershed associations, Trout Unlimited chapters, Waterkeepers and conservation districts to protect clean and healthy waters around the state; and to clean up and restore polluted and degraded waters.
Stocking Trout in a restored creek in Lancaster CountyPhoto by Bob Nichols, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Practicing Sustainable Forestry on Private Lands
Indicator of Watershed Health: Private forest owners sustainably manage their property by working with professional foresters to adopt Forest Stewardship Plans.
In the PA Highlands private forests are very common and provide critical linkages for wildlife, while protecting clean water and other ecological values. Through a stewardship plan, landowners can become more active in managing their forests for many different values, greatly increasing the likelihood that their forests will remain intact, productive and healthy, and that the social, economic and environmental benefits of these lands will be sustained for future generations. The Forest Service offers the Forest Stewardship Program, which has produced more than 270,000 multi-resource management, plans encompassing more than 31 million acres of private forestlands through this cost-sharing program. For a list of State Foresters to help assist you with a Forest Stewardship Plan, click here.
Active Forest ManagementPhoto by Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Critters and Healthy River Ecosystems
Indicator of Watershed Health: Finding "critters", also known as macro-invertebrates, means that a river and its watershed are in good health because these animals are easily killed by pollution.
Macro-invertebrates or "critters" are found in rivers and streams and help maintain the health of the water ecosystem by eating bacteria and dead plants. Since these critters help to support a healthy ecosystem, their survival is very important. Many macro-invertebrates survive in difference conditions and can tolerate different amounts of pollutants and other water quality issues, so scientists study these critters to get a better understanding of the overall health of a watershed. Play this interactive game about macro-invertebrates.
Studying River HealthPhoto by Paul Fusco, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Managing Livestock and Water Resources
Indicator of Watershed Health: Livestock are managed in such a way that natural waste products are kept from entering our streams and drinking water supplies.
Waste products like manure from farm animals and livestock have great benefits locally such as providing a natural fertilizer for cropland, but can also have a detrimental impact on the overall health of a watershed if not managed well. Many resources are available to farmers to help assist them in the PA Highlands in managing waste from livestock. Explore the Agricultural Waste Management Fieldbook and other resources provided through the Penn State Cooperative Extension.
Building fences along a stream bank to keep cattle out of the water in Lancaster County.Photo by Bob Nichols, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Farms Can Help Protect Water Quality
Indicator of Watershed Health: Downstream communities have clean water for drinking, fishing and swimming because upstream communities work together.
Helping farmers manage their lifestock and crops in a more environmentally friendly way, through grants and incentives, keeps water cleaner as it flows into small creeks and rivers. Some rivers that begin in the Pennsylvania Highlands flow downstream to provide drinking water to Philadelphia and other cities, while other rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States.
Protecting Farmland by Keeping Prime Soils Out of Rivers
Indicator of Watershed Health: Healthy watersheds have limited soil loss from agricultural lands.
Throughout the PA Highlands, soil erosion is occurring from wind, water and tillage, but much is being done and can be done to protect these high valued soils. Protecting prime soils from being lost requires techniques like alley cropping, windbreaks, and riparian buffers. In some areas of the PA Highlands, topsoil used to be 20-30 inches deep and is now only 5-10 inches deep. This loss of topsoil means that crops do not grow as well and as more and more topsoil is lost, the overall productivity of the farm drops greatly. Protecting soil from erosion is important and many resources are available to help. Start by exploring the Soil Survey Programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Erosion and Sediment Control Plans can be developed in cooperation with your local Conservation District, the NRCS, Penn State Cooperative Extension or your local Crop Consultant.
Trees and windbreaks help prevent soil loss on a farm in the HighlandsPhoto by Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Local Farms Growing Food for Your Table
Indicator of Watershed Health: A healthy environment means that farmers are providing local foods while keeping the best farmland from being developed for other proposes.
The Pennsylvania Highlands have some of the most fruitful farmlands around. These farms provide local food to communities, farm-markets, restaurants and grocery stores around Pennsylvania. The Eat Fresh, Buy Local program can help you find local food and farms throughout the Pennsylvania Highlands.
The Loss of Farmland - Protecting our Heritage
Indicator of Watershed Health: A healthy environment means that farmers are providing local foods while keeping the best farmland from being developed for other proposes.
Protecting our farmland from development ensures that we can continue to enjoy local foods in the future and keeps community character. Although farmland makes up 35% of the Pennsylvania Highlands, only 16% of farmland is currently preserved. Of the Pennsylvania's entire farmland preservation program, almost 70% of all farmland protection takes place in the Pennsylvania Highlands. Learn more about farmland protection efforts.
Fishing and Paddling on Healthy Rivers
Indicator of Watershed Health: The river is enjoyed by a variety of recreational enthusiasts such as paddlers and fisherman.
Healthy watersheds provide numerous recreational opportunities such as fishing, boating and swimming. AMC has numerous resources available to help get you outside such as guidebooks and volunteer led paddling trips. Pennsylvania also hosts a variety of sojourns and family friendly river trips on many water trails around the state, some of which are in or adjacent to the PA Highlands. Learn more about sojourns and river events through the PA Organization of Watersheds and Rivers. Fishing access locations are available around the PA Highlands and are well publicized through the PA Fish and Boat Commission, but also fishing is popular activity in PA State Parks.
Stream-Bank Erosion and Restoration
Indicator of Watershed Health: Stream-bank erosion and loss provides a glimpse into larger watershed health issues, but can often be fixed.
Erosion of stream banks often happens after a large rain event, or after prolonged periods of rain and can be an indicator of challenges within the larger watershed regarding stormwater controls. Many stream banks have been degraded in the PA Highlands because of previous human activity along the bank, such as mowing and removing native plants. The Little Lehigh Creek in the PA Highlands has had areas of its banks restored very successfully, but stream bank restoration requires not just stabilizing the banks but also addressing the reasons why the bank is eroding. The New York Times has a great video about dam removal and stream restoration. Watch the video online to learn more. Planting trees helps to maintain stream banks when they have been restored. While grasses help keep topsoil in place, tree roots penetrate deep and spread out, anchoring large blocks of soil.
Extreme stream bank erosion indicates upstream watershed challenges.Photo by Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Forests Clean Our Water and Recharge Underground Aquifers
Indicator of Watershed Health: To protect drinking water quality for an entire watershed, no more than 10% of the land should be covered with pavement or other impervious surfaces.
Almost half a million acres of forests and woodlands in the Pennsylvania Highlands help to purify our drinking water. The largest forested area in the region is the Hopewell Big Woods at 73,000 continuous acres. Forests clean our drinking water by filtering out pollutants as water seeps through the soil into natural, underground storage areas known as aquifers. Water then trickles through the aquifer and keeps water in the streams of the Pennsylvania Highlands, which flows downstream and provides clean drinking water to Philadelphia and other cities. The US Geological Service monitors groundwater levels around the country. Click here to learn more about groundwater and click here to learn more about aquifers.
Maintaining Water Flows
Indicator of Watershed Health: Water levels in our creeks and rivers are maintained so that humans and wildlife can rely on these resources year round.
Even during the driest of the summer months, rivers and creeks often still hold water, which is known as base flow. Taking water from our rivers and aquifers for many uses can reduce these base flows, leaving less water in the river during the driest times of year. By keeping base flow high, the river is better able to dilute pollutants and provide better habitat to trout and other aquatic species by staying colder. The deeper the river, the more diverse the wildlife can be. Additionally, recreational river users like paddlers and fisherman rely on base flow to keep rivers healthy, but also to keep them navigable for paddling. Learn more about fishing and paddling access locations through the PA Fish and Boat Commission.
Base flow provides healthy habitat for fish and flows for paddling.Photo by Gary Kramer, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Working Together for Cleaner Water and a Healthier Environment
Indicator of Watershed Health: A community actively works together to protect a watershed especially its forestlands, such as in the Chesapeake and Potomac Watersheds.
When major threats and challenges face a watershed, coalitions form to help address these problems, especially in helping to protect forestland from being lost to other land uses. In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, a partnership is currently connecting residents, communities, and governmental and non-governmental organizations to the issues facing the Bay. The Potomac Watershed Partnership has been working towards similar goals and most recently mapped forestlands in the watershed that may be in need of restoration of better management to protect water resource values. But even at a small scale, partnerships are needed to help identify and address problems and challenges facing your watershed. The PA Highlands overlaps many of these major watershed initiatives and works collaboratively to support these efforts.
Partners meet to discuss opportunities to enhance the Cheseapeake Bay WatershedPhoto by Bob Nichols, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
The Tundra Swan and Biological Diversity
Indicator of Watershed Health: Without clean water for fish and other species on the food chain, birds and other wildlife could not survive.
Biological diversity is critical for a balanced ecosystem. More than ever before, we are witnessing the interconnectedness between natural and built environments and between human and animal populations. With over 250 species of "special concern" and 4,700 acres of rare plant communities in the PA Highlands, protecting habitat for these species is only one important piece of the puzzle. For these species to survive, the entire food chain must be functioning well, which begins with clean water. From large mammals to birds, from amphibians to insects, all are crucially important to a well function¬ing ecosystem. Some of the most notable species in the Highlands include the bog turtle, bald eagle, Indiana bat, and Eastern-timber rattlesnake. Learn more about the Tundra Swan, a unique species to the Pennsylvania Highlands that relies on clean water and habitat in the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area.
Tundra Swans at the Middle Creek WMAPhoto by T.L. Gettings
Hike the Pennsylvania Highlands
Indicator of Watershed Health: The public is outside enjoying natural areas and cares about protecting them.
AMC is working with partners on developing the PA Highlands Trail Network to connect communities with natural areas, parks and rivers nearby. Learn more about our trail work by visiting our blog. Download Hike the Highlands cards to get outside today. Find an AMC activity such a hike in the PA Highlands.
Hiking in the PA HighlandsPhoto by Mark Zakutansky
Upland Forests Is Where Water Begins Its Journey
Indicator of Watershed Health: Intact forests on our hills and ridgelines ensure that our smallest streams and rivers start off clean and healthy.
Forests provide natural cleaning for water that seeps into the ground as well as water that begins as a small trickle and eventually becomes a small creek and then a river. By protecting the water quality of our smallest streams, we can ensure that our rivers are healthy and provide clean drinking water and thriving habitat. The upland forests in the PA Highlands are unique and are in need of protection because 70% of them are privately owned. The Highlands Conservation Act provides funding to help protect this forestland, through the Land and Water Conservation Fund and with matching funds from Pennsylvania's Growing Greener Program.
Clean water flowing from upland forests in the HighlandsPhoto by Mark Zakutansky
Upland Habitat and Connectivity
Indicator of Watershed Health: Natural areas, including ridgelines and river corridors, are connected allowing plant and animal species to thrive.
Connecting natural areas is important because wildlife travel and need not just habitat, but need natural areas to allow them to get from one area to another. As changes in land use lead to the loss of habitat and connectivity, species begin to have problems breeding and finding food. To identify habitat values and show where connectivity is important, AMC has developed the PA Highlands Greenway Vision. Learn more about wildlife habitat in the Highlands through the AMC's Wildlife in the Highlands brochure.