Water experts to test polluted waters in the Buffalo Creek watershed to find the source | TribLIVE.com
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Mary Ann Thomas

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania will plant six acres of native vegetation along area waterways within two weeks and testing polluted waters to find the source in the Buffalo Creek watershed.

Known for its rich environmental quality and beauty, the Buffalo Creek watershed runs through Butler and Armstrong counties ending in Freeport, where Buffalo Creek empties into the Allegheny River.

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, based in Fox Chapel, recently completed the study, “Buffalo Creek Watershed Conservation Plan 10 Year Update,” to serve as a guide for local governments, community groups and private landowners on environmental stewardship and planning.

With a 75-year history in the watershed as the owner of Todd Nature Reserve in Buffalo Township and other holdings, the Audubon Society has taken an interest in the environmental quality of the area. It also has designated part of the watershed as an Important Bird Area for its rich and productive habitat.

“This watershed conservation plan gives us, and others, a prioritized outline of projects and goals to help steward the entire watershed,” said Jim Bonner, ASWP executive director, “and help keep the Buffalo Creek valley a special place for people and birds.”

The study found a 10% spike in water quality impairment in just a decade.

The study identified 83 critical and high-priority action items and 73 potential restoration projects.

“The nice thing about these river and water conservation plans, they are not unfunded mandates,” said Dave Rupert, district manager of the Armstrong County Conservation District.

“This is a road map to restore the watershed with concrete steps,” he said. “If landowners want to do it on their own, great. If a landowner wants to do something with their municipality, that’s fantastic.”

Ryan Harr, watershed resourced specialist with the Butler Conservation District, said he will use the Audubon Society plan when he submits grants.

“It’s your starting point when seeking funding and guidance,” Harr said. “Anyone can use this plan as a tool to seek money to pay for recommendations.”

Audubon has four pending grants to carry out some of the study’s recommendations, said Sarah Koenig, Audubon’s conservation director.

They include:

• Planting buffer zones to decrease erosion and pollution along Little Buffalo Creek in Buffalo Township on Oct. 19, from 9 a.m. to noon. Known as “riparian buffers,” these plantings outline local waterways with native vegetation. They include trees, shrubs and plants, some of which are fruit-bearing or nut-bearing.

The Audubon Society, along with the Butler-Freeport Community Trail group, landed a $54,000 state grant to plant native vegetation over the next three years along any creek in the watershed. Landowners can request plantings from Audubon by contacting the group’s Fox Chapel headquarters.

• ASWP plans to partner with Chatham and Duquesne universities to conduct water quality sampling. More than 50% of the stream miles in four sub-watersheds are impaired, including Little Buffalo Creek (65% impaired) in Buffalo, Jefferson and Winfield townships. Causes include agriculture, on-site wastewater, small water treatment facilities and urban runoff.

The study also found that residents want additional recreation space such as parks, playgrounds, public green space, fishing access and paddling access. Most of the land in the watershed is privately owned.

Hard copies of the 80-page report have been distributed to officials in Butler and Armstrong County and municipalities. The public can access the report via Audubon’s website, www.aswp.org.

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