By Ad Crable
What are the chances of getting 30 different landowners to participate in a 2.5-mile stream restoration project in suburban Lancaster, PA?
And allow the creation of 27 acres of new wetlands on their properties?
And consent to a public streamside trail of nearly 3 miles through their land to boot?
It appears to be happening in Lancaster County, where water quality improvements will play a critical role in the state’s ability to meet its share of the 2025 Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals
The $14 million public-private project aimed at restoring Little Conestoga Creek is still nailing down funding but has secured interest from local, state and federal sources. One promising funding source is a newly revised state program that lets entities that are encroaching on small portions of wetlands pay to create wetlands elsewhere. Also, the state is looking at streamlining the permitting process by consolidating all of the needed permits into one.
If the project moves forward as planned, its backers say it will be the largest-ever stream restoration in Lancaster County and serve as a visible template for how large-scale, holistic stream cleaning with regional partners can be accomplished in other locations. They say it will not only improve water quality, reduce flooding and add wildlife habitat, but provide a paved, multi-use recreational trail that may also bring economic benefits as it connects about 200,000 people to their workplaces, health services and shopping centers.
“The opportunity to enhance the quality of life and in some cases create economic activity that’s around our streams, and the enjoyment of those streams, is really a combination that I think exists at a lot of other locations in our county,” said John Cox, chair of the board of Turkey Hill Dairy and a member of the project team.
Also, the project could help four townships meet pollution reduction requirements in their federal stormwater runoff permits. And it will be much cheaper than if they were doing it alone.
Once stream improvements are made, backers say sedimentation will be reduced by 202 tons a year. The nutrient phosphorus would decline by 611 pounds a year and nitrogen by 674 pounds a year.
“This opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to provide a vital, contiguous and replicable resource that solves some of the most pressing issues facing our community, environment and water quality today,” said the feasibility study for the Little Conestoga Blue/Green Corridor.
The project also would be one of the largest efforts in the state to remove legacy sediment, which built up behind mill dams in the 1700s and 1800s, smothering the original streambed under 3–5 feet of highly erodible, nutrient-laden soil. That backwater soil is now being carved through by the stream, like a hot knife through butter, and calving away in clumps during freeze-thaw cycles. At one place, the silt backup causes the stream to flow backward during high water.