Stocking returns to Turtle Creek |
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Along with the storm clouds and rain, Turtle Creek saw a few rainbows this week – 1,944 to be exact.

Rainbow trout returned to the waterway, brought to the creek by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in preparation for the opening of trout season today.

Wednesday’s stocking is the first by the state since 1993, when poor water quality caused by acid mine drainage led the state to remove Turtle Creek from its stocking list.

Government officials and local watershed activists say the return of the fish commission stocking program to Turtle Creek shows that efforts to improve local waterways are making progress.

‘The bottom line is that the creek is cleaned up enough that it now meets the criteria for trout stocking,’ said Martha Mackey, a watershed conservation officer for the fish and boat commission.

Mackey said water quality has improved because of acid mine reclamation and remediation, and sewage treatment upgrades in the area.

Other water quality improvement programs that are under way or will be soon also contributed to the state’s decision to resume stocking in the creek.

A 3.9-mile stretch of Turtle Creek was stocked with 3,200 rainbow and brown trout, trucked in from the Benner Fish Culture Station in State College.

An additional 2,300 trout will be stocked on an undisclosed date later this month.

Volunteers formed a bucket brigade to transport the fish from a truck to the creek.

Joe Prosser, a volunteer from the Trafford Sportsman’s club, remembers when the state stocked Turtle Creek in 1989, unaware that toxic levels of aluminum had been flushed from abandoned mines by heavy rains and poisoned the creek.

He actually helped with that stocking as well.

The fish did not last long, Prosser said.

‘That night they were floating,’ he said. ‘The next day it was a mess.’

The state suspended stocking after the 1989 incident, resumed in 1991, and abandoned it again after 1993.

Worries that there would not be enough volunteers to help move the fish proved unfounded, as about 80 volunteers crowded the bridge along Sanders Station Road.

‘I can’t believe the turnout,’ Mackey said. ‘It’s unbelievable. I don’t quite know what I expected – it wasn’t this.’

State Rep. Joseph Markosek, a Monroeville Democrat and chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, was among the volunteers toting fish to the creek.

Markosek praised the cleanup efforts that have helped improve the creek.

‘I think it speaks highly for all the efforts of the people involved – especially the Turtle Creek Watershed Association,’ he said. ‘All of us want a good clean environment, and this is a good sign that we’ve brought it back.’

The watershed association has led the efforts to reduce acid mine drainage problems in the area.

Deb Simko, executive director of the watershed association, said the returning trout – and the anglers who will follow – are an example of how improving the environment can benefit the community.

In addition to being a sign of a healthier ecosystem, she said, ‘I think this is a wonderful economic opportunity. A lot of people view economic redevelopment as bringing in industry. Fishing and other water recreation opportunities bring in money, also.’

State Sen. Sean Logan, a Monroeville Democrat, said the trout stocking highlights an underappreciated aspect of the area.

‘If you told people that we’d be in Monroeville stocking trout three minutes from the mall, they wouldn’t believe it,’ Logan said.

‘People think of the eastern suburbs as just hustle and bustle, development and one strip mall after another, but it’s not . There are nice places where you can just sit on the river bank and fish.’

Brandon Keat can be reached at [email protected] or (412) 380-8546.

Association keeps clean-up goal afloat

The wrong weather conditions can bring out the worst in the region’s waterways.

A severe drought in the summer of 1988 caused aluminum to build up and concentrate in abandoned mines.

Then a wet winter and spring – with lots of snow and rain – flushed the dissolved metal into Turtle Creek. Even as the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission was stocking the creek with 3,000 trout, a toxic level of aluminum inundated the waters.

After the resulting fish kill, which wiped out stocked trout and native fish, the state commission stopped stocking Turtle Creek. The commission resumed stocking in 1991 but stopped again after 1993 because of continued problems with acid mine drainage.

The Turtle Creek watershed – a 147-square-mile area in which water drains into Turtle Creek and its tributaries – includes all or part of 33 municipalities.

It also contains 114 acid mine-drainage sites, which send poisonous aluminum and iron into area waterways.

The Turtle Creek Watershed Association has made reclamation and mitigation of the sites a focus of their work. The association installed a limestone diversion well on a tributary of the creek in Export, with the help of the borough.

The association frequently measures the acidity of the water and conducts surveys of aquatic wildlife to gauge the water quality and overall health of the creek.

Deb Simko, the association’s executive director, said that improvements in area sewage-treatment plants are part of the reason that water quality has improved.

The work completed by the watershed association – and the projects in the works – also contributed to the state’s decision to stock the creek again.

Successful stocking done by the watershed association in 1999 and 2000 showed that the water quality was getting better.

‘Things are beginning to improve,’ Simko said. ‘But the Fish (and Boat) Commission knows that the watershed association has put in for grants to build large treatment systems.’

The watershed association has applied for a $500,000 grant through the state’s Growing Greener Program. With matching money from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the $1 million will be used to build a treatment system along Borland Farm Road in Murrysville, the association said.

– Brandon Keat

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