Donegal Creek Restoration Project Written by Mark A. ?· the Donegal Creek Restoration Project. 4 I…

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  • Donegal Creek Restoration ProjectWritten by Mark A. Metzler

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    Donegal Creek is located in the northwest corner of LancasterCounty, Pennsylvania. This limestonestream has a 17.2 square milewatershed and flows through someof Lancaster Countys most fertilefarmland. Approximately 91% of theDonegals watershed is in agriculturalproduction, while the balance is comprised of urban landuse and sporadic woodlots.

    Donegal Creek is commonly divided and referred to by one of itsthree distinct sections; those beingthe main stem (Donegal Creek), theeast branch (Charles Run) and thewest branch (Donegal Springs). Thewest branch is by far the best forgeneral water quality. Large springslocated in the headwaters provide adependable flow of cold, crystal-clearwater producing an optimum coldwater fishery.

    In contrast, the east branch,although originating from similarspring sources, is influenced to agreater degree by surrounding agricultural and urban landuse. Theeast branch suffers from chronic

    bouts of thermal pollution and sedimentation. In its pristine state,one can only conclude the eastbranch had been a cold water fishery,similar to its western twin, but nowwould best be described as a warmwater fishery masquerading as a cold water fishery outside the summer months.

    The main stem, as logic shoulddictate, is a combination of the two branches. Water temperaturesremain cool enough through thesummer months to support a year-round cold water fishery.Sedimentation problems have been greatly reduced due to recentrestoration efforts. The upper half ofthe main stem maintains the typicallimestone stream appearance, whilethe lower half begins to take on characteristics more common offreestone streams.

    The Donegal flows into ChickiesCreek near Marietta, Pennsylvania,which in turn flows into the mightySusquehanna River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

    The Donegal

    L A N C A S T E R C O U N T Y


  • For the most part, Donegal Creek is accessible to the general publicwith ample signage indicating appropriate conduct and restrictions.Fence stiles near public roads providestrategic entrance to fenced areas ofthe stream. In addition, many areas of the stream are easily accessed atthe various bridge crossings. Manyfisherman, hunters, hikers and birdwatchers enjoy what this stream has to offer.

    To many people, Donegal Creekmeans trout fishing! The main stemincludes a 2.4 mile delayed harvestfly-fishing stretch, while the rest ofthe main stem and branches areopen to bait fishing. Both thePennsylvania Fish and BoatCommission and the Donegal Fishand Conservation Association stocktrout during the spring and fallmonths. In addition to the stockedtrout, an angler may encounter wildstream-bred brown trout when fishingthe main stem and wild rainbow andbrown trout (progeny from egg plant-ings) when fishing the west branch.






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    Numbered circlesrepresent the 8monitoring stationsused to collectdata throughoutthe Donegal Creek RestorationProject.

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    IIn 1994, Tom Moore of the DonegalFish and Conservation Association wasbecoming increasingly concerned withthe physical condition of his local troutstream. He recalled earlier years whenhe and his two sons would enjoyangling success, but all that seemedto be changing, literally eroding away.

    Ken Depoe, another local angler,was also quite aware of the situation;in fact had been since 1965 when he first organized the Donegal Fishand Conservation Association for the specific purpose of improvingDonegal Creek. He and a handful of volunteers experienced successthough constantly hampered by a limited budget.

    Early endeavors focused on themain stem and in 1966 the originalfly-fishing only area, now labeled as delayed harvest fly-fishing, wasestablished. Depoe realized the damage free ranging livestock werecausing and had installed single-wireelectric fences along the stream corridor where permitted to do so.

    In time however, a few of the keyproperties changed ownership andmany of the past improvements wererendered useless. The 1970s were

    not kind to the Donegal. HurricaneAgnes of 72 rearranged the creek to its liking, instigating down on thefarm stream encroachment andrealigning activities.

    The Donegals fishery meagerlyexisted through the remaining 70sand 80s. Agricultural landuse took on a new found intensity. Farmers inthe area increased production anddiversified their operations in anattempt to make ends meet. Dairyand other livestock operations wereexpanded while appropriate measuresfor controlling nutrients and over-grazing were at times lacking.

    Trout fishing in the Donegal wasmore or less limited to a put andtake scenario. In 1992, thePennsylvania Fish and BoatCommission released the results of a survey they had performed onthe east branch (Charles Run). Inshort, the survey found Charles Runto be severely degraded, lacking inwater quality, diversity of aquatic lifeand habitat.

    The Commonwealths State WaterPlan sang a similar tune. Out of 104highly degraded watersheds, theDonegal (considered part of the

    Chickies Creek Watershed) ranked14th on the priority list for clean-up.Only 13 other watersheds in theentire state were considered to bemore polluted by non-point sourcepollution.

    So in 1994, the Donegal Fish and Conservation Association soughtthe assistance of the LancasterCounty Conservation District. District employees Travis Martin and MarkMetzler worked with Moore and managed to install the first of manyfencing projects on the Donegalswest branch.

    At the same time, this buddingpartnership of fisherman and conser-vationists realized it needed moremoney if restoration efforts were toadvance downstream. The Districtstarted to pursue a large section 319grant from the CommonwealthsDepartment of EnvironmentalProtection.

    In March of 1996, the partnershipsdream came true when they startedspending their $136,671 section 319allocation. In time, the partnershipwould be the recipients of other cashand labor donations allowing further project expansion.

    Past & Present

  • TThe way in which land is used within astreams watershed ultimately influencesstream health. Wise use of land and water result in healthy aquatic resources,while abuse results in degradation. TheDonegal, like other streams of theCommonwealth, is at the mercy of thosepeople inhabiting its watershed.

    As mentioned earlier, 91% of theDonegals watershed is in agricultural production. Therefore, it is only reasonableto expect that particular landuse to havethe greatest influence on water quality;and indeed that is the case.

    By volume, sediment is the largest pollutant to Donegal waters. The partner-ship feels strongly that the majority ofDonegals sedimentation problem hadstemmed from streambank erosion and,to a lesser degree, cropfield erosion.

    Prior to 1994, approximately 4.5 miles of Donegal Creek was negativelyimpacted by free ranging livestock (mainlydairy herds). Trampling cattle destroyedstreambank vegetation, leaving banks in a raw condition prime for erosion duringhigh water flows. Many sections of thecreek were extremely wide and shallow in these pasture-type settings when compared to less disturbed areas.

    Too much of a good thing can be bad.

    Donegal Dilemas Sedimentation Nutrient overloading (Nitrogen) Thermal pollution Structural habitat loss Stormwater surges Lack of groundwater recharge in developing areas

    Such is the case when considering the nutrient load in the average sample of Donegal water. Nitrate readings are routinely high and have regularly exceeded40 ppm (greater than 10 ppm is consid-ered too high for human consumption)over the past four years. Nitrate readingsseem to peak during periods of drought,indicating a contaminated groundwatersupply. Excessive algae blooms and thickmats of duckweed, as can be seen on theeast branch (Charles Run), provide visualevidence of such nutrient overloading.

    The Donegal also suffers from thermalpollution, though recently planted forestbuffers are beginning to provide some re-leaf in the pasture settings.

    A lack of in-stream structural habitat,routine surges of ripping stormwater and a lack of sufficient groundwater rechargecomplete the list of Donegal ailments.Some of the ailments are easily and quickly addressed, others are not. Thepartnership feels it has or can continue tosuccessfully combat problems such assedimentation, thermal pollution, structuralhabitat loss and to some extent nutrientoverloading. Controlling stormwater generated from urban sprawl and its related reduction in groundwater rechargehowever will provide future challenges!


    Ken Depoe (left) and Tom Moore (right) of theDonegal Fish and Conservation Association enjoy a spring morning on the Donegals fly stretch.

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    Landowners willing to cooperatewith restoration activities are ofutmost importance. Without theirinvolvement, there simply is no project!

    Early on, the partnership adoptedthe golden rule as its policy fordealing with landowners. Do untoothers as you would have them dounto you seemed well received bythe landowners involved. The partner-ship realized they could not go onprivate property and force the projectand its ideals.

    After the first fencing project in1994, the partnership sponsored anopen house and invited area farmersto come take a look. The processwas repeated in 95 with a secondfencing project and public workshop.People in the area started to wonderwhat was going on, which provided amarvelous opportunity to share therestoration dream.

    In the Fall of 95, the partnershipeither hand delivered or mailed a letter and questionnaire to each of

    the 23 landowners identified in theoriginal 6.7 mile project area. The