With help from the state and surrounding counties, Potter County is forming a plan to clean up its waterways.

“The focus is local water quality,” said Jason Childs, manager of the Potter County Conservation District. “We’re the ones who live here, work here and play here, so we’re trying to conserve these resources.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently released water quality reports with mitigation recommendations for all 33 counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The counties were put in groups that will work together to each develop a plan; Potter County is working with Tioga and Bradford counties.

This was prompted by the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan, which is requiring the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed – comprised of parts of six states and the District of Columbia – to meet specific pollution reduction goals by 2025. The TMDL, the largest such plan ever developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, focuses on reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in waterways.

Childs said sediment from dirt roads and streambanks that causes erosion and flooding is one of the biggest issues in Potter County.

“We have a lot of dirt and gravel forestry roads here, so we’ll be working with DCNR to rehab some of those,” he said, adding that according to the DEP report for Potter County, the Kettle Creek area is being greatly impacted by sediment runoff.

The report identified the Cowanesque watershed in the northeastern part of the county as another problem area, as it yields the highest load of both nutrients and sediment.

“That makes sense since that’s where the majority of the county’s agricultural activity is,” said Childs. “We can collaborate on Tioga County on that being our neighbors to the east.”

Childs said a certain threshold of nitrogen and phosphorus can make water unsafe to drink for both humans and livestock. Excess nutrients also negatively affect aquatic plants and animals, including the native Brook Trout.

According to the DEP report, 1,638,000 pounds of nitrogen and 185,000 pounds of phosphorus were delivered to Potter County waterways in 2019. The TMDL goal is 1,296,000 pounds (342,000-pound reduction) and 136,000 pounds (49,000-pound reduction) respectively by 2025.

The report says an estimated 63% of the nitrogen in Potter County waterways come from natural sources such as stream beds and banks. The rest of the load – including 26% from agricultural sources and 9% from developed areas – is considered controllable sources that can be reduced by management actions.

Of the nitrogen from agriculture in the county, an estimated 31% is from manure and 69% from fertilizer. In developed areas, the majority of both nitrogen and phosphorus enters waterways from large grassy areas such as yards, golf courses or cemeteries. The report says this is primarily due to the use of fertilizer and the removal of organic material like trees.

To address these issues and meet reductions goals, Childs said Potter, Tioga and Bradford counties will complete a joint master plan with sections specific to each county by September. He said each county’s commissioners, planning office and conservation district are already working together and will enlist the help of other local organizations like agriculture boards and Trout Unlimited chapters. Potter County is forming its local steering committee in the next couple of months to start identifying projects that will be included in the plan.

“It’s definitely a group effort,” said Childs. “Water quality should be important to everyone.”

He said mitigation projects in Potter County will likely include rehabbing stream banks and repairing buffer work. He said the Conservation District already helps landowners and municipalities complete these and many other projects aimed at protecting the county’s land and water.

“Even if someone has something in mind that doesn’t directly go along with this water plan, we’re always willing to help as far as getting projects done or providing some kind of assistance,” said Childs. “We do a lot of work with farmers on manure management and seeking grants to do buffers or streambank fencing. We also work on dirt and gravel road programs, fish habitats, erosion control and assist landowners with building projects that might involve a wetland or stream.”

For more information about its programs and offerings, call the Potter County Conservation District at 814-274-8411 ext. 4 or visit www.pottercd.com.

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