Our Creek Watch team serves as the eyes and the ears of the watershed, hiking to their ‘adopted’ sites each and every month to record observations and take photos that are reported back to Wissahickon Trails. There are about 35 Creek Watch sites throughout the watershed, and the Creek Watch program hugely expands Wissahickon Trails’ capacity to understand what is happening on the ground throughout the watershed. Creek Watchers not only flag concerns in our waterways like strange colors or odors, trash/litter, etc., but they also report on trail hazards and issues.
Below are two Creek Watch stories that demonstrate two critical services that the Creek Watch volunteers provide: 1) serving as a first alarm system for problems on the ground and 2) creating a long- term dataset that can be scrutinized for change when concerns arise.
In 2023, a concern was raised based on the irregular coloration of the stream at Fort Washington State Park. Where a tributary to the Wissahickon, Lorraine Run, met the Wissahickon (the “confluence”), the cloudy color of the Lorraine Run was evident. Unusual colors and cloudiness can be a sign of pollution. So Wissahickon Trails staff investigated! The Lorraine Run passes through a golf course immediately upstream of this confluence – we contacted the golf course and they quickly completed an inspection of their course to ensure that nothing on their property was contributing pollution to the Lorraine Run. Immediately upstream of the golf course is a quarry, which is permitted to discharge water to the Lorraine Run with certain suspended solids (or sediment) limits. Sediment is considered a pollutant of the Wissahickon Creek, but permits issued to organizations to discharge pollutants to the creek are modeled to not significantly impact stream health.
Temple University extensively studies the Wissahickon and we connected with Dr. Laura Toran at Temple University to see if she had studied Lorraine Run. Dr. Toran was familiar with this area and could tell us a few things about the area:
The quarry discharge stabilizes water temperature of Lorraine Run
Nutrients like nitrate and phosphate were low in Lorraine Run and actually dilutes nutrient levels in the Wissahickon Creek
While Temple did not study sediment levels in Lorraine Run, based on the factors they studied, their data did not show any significant negative impact on the Wissahickon Creek from the quarry discharge.
Our plan moving forward is to keep a close eye on this area, particularly for visual cues that the color is getting more cloudy or is consistently cloudy for many days.
The Wissahickon Headwaters Stream and Riparian Restoration Project in Upper Gwynedd was a $1.4 million project completed in 2020. The project restored and stabilized the stream channel and reconnected it with its floodplain along 1,775 linear feet of the Wissahickon Creek. You can read more about the project here. A lot of professional due diligence and research went into planning and researching the project. During project installation and the immediate aftermath, Wissahickon Trails staff was on-site frequently and checked in on the project regularly. Temple University installed loggers downstream to monitor the project impact, and Wissahickon Trails samples water downstream of the site every quarter.
However, we only have a long-term record (10+ years) and photos of this site due to Creek Watchers regularly visiting the site and providing information and photos. Since the restoration project was completed, staff check on the site, but the frequency of staff visits has decreased as other work demands ramp up after project completion. The project is evolving every year, and is designed to mature over time with different vegetative species. The Creek Watchers provide a critical link in regularly checking on the site, keeping an eye on stream flow, nuisance plants in the restoration area, etc. The information Creek Watchers send us allows staff to keep an eye on things without frequent visits to the site and is creating a long-term record of the project evolution. The data that Creek Watchers collect each moth goes hand in hand with staff-led data collection. The two data collection types complement each other, and form a more complete picture of the health of our waterways.
Below is a photo documentation of the project site over time, thank you to the Creek Watchers at the site!