For the past 10-plus years, Trout Unlimited staff have been working in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission with additional funding from the Foundation for PA Watersheds, the Heinz Endowment, and others to complete Unassessed Waters surveys in streams across the state.
These assessments are targeted using a variety of factors, including geographic watershed and land use/land cover analysis, as well as to document populations that are reestablishing in areas of watershed recovery.
Each year, sampling site areas are chosen, electroshocked in the field, field chemistry taken, and class and biomass measurements recorded. Fin clips and/or PIT tags are also sometimes used for further study later.
Since 2010, TU has sampled hundreds of sites throughout Pennsylvania to document populations of wild trout.
Over the years, approximately 40 percent of all sites sampled support populations of wild trout representing a significant number of streams that would not otherwise be identified as eligible for higher levels of protection.
These assessments are key in starting a process that ends in [federal] Clean Water Act regulatory protections through discharge permits and other mechanisms.
In addition to wild trout streams, a subset of these streams also qualify for Class A listing status based on species-specific biomass estimates and year class distributions.
TU field staff pass along the results of these assessments to the Fish and Boat Commission for evaluation and recommendation for listing to the commissioners.
At each quarterly meeting, the commissioners vote on staff recommendations to add these streams to the wild trout and Class A lists.
Once added to the PFBC lists, the waters are referred to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for inclusion in modifications to PADEP regulations that classify streams based on their biological, chemical, and physical characteristics.
This means that these listings trigger a change in how activities are considered by the PADEP, requiring any projects in these watersheds to use practices that are more protective of these waters.
For higher levels of protection for Class A streams (High Quality – HQ), facilities must evaluate alternatives to discharging to the protected stream, implement 150-foot riparian buffers, and include BMPs that are more protective in preventing runoff from impacting the stream.
These processes have been working smoothly in the past four to five years as PFBC has diligently worked to evaluate and list streams that had been backlogged.
However, while these segments are listed and receiving “interim” protections (referred to as existing use protections), once they are delivered to PADEP, it can be 3-5 years before regulations are promulgated to officially protect these streams from present and further development.
This long delay is due to resource issues at PADEP, as well as the complex regulatory process that exists in Pennsylvania.
There is good news on the horizon, however.
PADEP recently published a “draft final” package of Class A streams that are moving through the final rulemaking process. This means that this package had been released previously for public comment, comments were addressed/responded to, and now this is the package PADEP is proposing as final.
On Nov. 19, the package will be presented to the Water Resources Advisory Committee for a vote to allow it to continue along in the rulemaking process.
[Note: The final Class A Stream Redesignations were approved as final by the Environmental Quality Board on November 17.]
The package will have other stops at the Environmental Quality Board, in the legislature, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission before officially becoming a regulation.
While the public comment period has closed for this package, look for upcoming opportunities to sign a petition or sign-on letter to tell PADEP, its advisory committees, legislators, and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission to finalize these protective regulations.
So why is identifying and listing unassessed waters as wild trout streams and/or Class A streams so important?
First, these listings allow management of salmonid resources in these waters in accordance with the recently released Pennsylvania Trout Management Plan.
These include management activities such as preserving areas containing wild trout populations as wild, discouraging the stocking of waters that include wild, native brook trout populations.
In addition, being listed as Class A requires any projects, such as an industry or housing development, to evaluate and implement more stringent management practices to preserve the higher quality of these waters.
Each quarter another list of wild trout and Class A trout waters are proposed for public comment by the Fish and Boat Commission. TU Eastern Policy coordinates an online petition for members to sign in support of those listings.
Look for this opportunity each quarter (generally announced through an email and posted on the TU Mid-Atlantic Policy Facebook page) to tell PFBC you support higher protections for Pennsylvania streams Eastern Policy is interested in doing presentations for chapters regarding the program, answer questions, and work with those who are interested in being further involved in advocating for clean water protections from all areas of the state.
Contact Jen Orr-Greene at [email protected] or at 717-364-4368 for more information.
[Visit The Fish and Boat Commission’s Unassessed Waters Initiative webpage for more information.]
For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the PA Council of Trout Unlimited website. Like them on Facebook. Follow PATU on Twitter. Click Here to become a member. Click Here to support their work.