UPPER TIOGA RIVER WATERSHED – HISTORY
Geography and Introduction:
The Upper Tioga River Watershed, which encompasses 280 square miles in northcentral Pennsylvania, is part of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.
The Tioga River begins as a small stream on Armenia Mountain in Bradford County. It flows southwesterly until it reaches the Blossburg area where it turns north, ultimately flowing into New York State where it joins the Cohocton River to form the Chemung River. The Chemung River crosses back into Pennsylvania and joins the Susquehanna River near Sayre, PA.
As recent as the 1970’s, the Tioga River supported Class A wild brook trout populations. Today the Tioga River from the confluence of the Fall Brook tributary can no longer support aquatic life.
Bituminous Coal Mining and the Watershed:
In 1792, coal was discovered in the Upper Tioga River Watershed near Blossburg. Deep and strip mining for coal were major industries in the region through the 1980s, with mining operations ending in 1990.
When deep mining began in the watershed, entries into the mines were dug from below the groundwater table. To keep the mines from filling with water, horizontal tunnels, known as drifts, were dug to allow water to drain by gravity out of the mines. Water entering one mine could travel for many miles downhill collecting drainage from many other mine areas along the way before discharging in large volumes from a common opening. Many coal seams are surrounded by pyrite-laden rock. When pyrite is exposed to air and water in the deep mine, it reacts to form sulfuric acid that further dissolves metals in the surrounding rock. The result is known as Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) pollution. AMD has water quality characterized by low pH, high acidity, and high dissolved metals like iron and aluminum.
Pollution in the Watershed:
Acid rain is another source of pollution in the watershed. Acid rain has depleted the natural buffering capacity of the soils causing low pH, acidic water particularly during periods of high runoff. Dissolved Colored Organic Carbons, produced by extensive natural wetlands in the watershed, also cause the stream water to take on a brown/orange hue.
The tributaries entering the Tioga River north of Blossburg do not suffer from AMD pollution. While these tributaries help to dilute the AMD polluted waters, the pollution emanating from the upper watershed is so severe that the river cannot recover and cannot support aquatic life.
The Tioga Hammond Dam Complex:
The Tioga Hammond Dam was constructed in 1978 and put into operation in 1981 as part of a flood control project. The unnatural blue-green color that is frequently seen in Tioga Lake is due to the precipitation of Aluminum which results when mine drainage begins to become neutralized by alkaline water.
The Dam complex provides some AMD remediation. Hammond Lake impounds Crooked Creek and controls a drainage area of 122 square miles. The water collected in Hammond Lake is alkaline and can be mixed with the polluted waters of Tioga Lake through a 2,700-foot connecting channel. Corps employees at the Tioga Hammond Dam monitor the chemistry and temperature of the lakes. Using the connecting channel to control the amount of water released downstream from each lake, the Corps is able to control the quality of water north of the Dam thus permitting aquatic life to survive.
The Watershed Assessment and Remediation Strategy for Abandoned Mine Drainage in the Upper Tioga River Watershed, compiled by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, documented the AMD pollution and provided recommendations for corrective action. The information documented in the SRBC study has been used to develop the narratives for this website.
The TCCCC, and our partners, the Hillside Rod & Gun Club, as well as our growing coalition of partners, are working to implement the recommendations contained in the SRBC report. Working with various government agencies as well as private industry, we are making progress in our goal to “Restore aquatic life to the Upper Tioga River Watershed”:
- Southwestern Energy is funding a major project that will restore the Fall Brook tributary.
- Funding secured via a grant from the Department of Community & Economic Development Abandoned Mine Drainage Abatement & Treatment Program as well as matching funds from the Tioga County Act 13 Fund is being used to study and develop treatment alternatives for the Morris Run tributary.
We will continue to work with the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection, the Bureau of Conservation & Restoration, the Bureau of Forestry, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Federal Office of Surface Mining, Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and other interested parties to reclaim the watershed. Through private funding and government grants to fund the engineering, design and construction of passive and active treatment systems, the planting of trees, and abandoned mine reclamation work, the watershed is slowly being reclaimed.
WATERSHED COALITION PARTNERS:
Organizations and government agencies actively involved in the coalition to reclaim the Upper Tioga River Watershed include:
Tioga County Concerned Citizens Committee, Inc. (TCCCC)
Hillside Rod & Gun Club
Tioga County Conservation District (TCCD)
Bureau of Forestry – Tioga State Forest
Blossburg Borough and Municipal Authority
DEP Bureau of Conservation & Restoration (BCR)
Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC)
Trout Unlimited (TU)