The Kiski–Conemaugh Stream Team was formed in 1998 to address concerns raised in the Kiski–Conemaugh River Basin Conservation Plan. The plan identified the need for a water-monitoring program to collect baseline data on over 100 abandoned mine discharges in the Kiski–Conemaugh River Basin, which encompasses portions of Armstrong, Cambria, Indiana, Somerset, and Westmoreland Counties. The plan also found that increased environmental awareness was necessary, since environment and ecology were not mandatory academic standards in Pennsylvania schools at the time. The Environmental Stewardship Fund has been an integral part of the Stream Team’s funding, and has helped to leverage about $6.5 million of federal, state, and local dollars for acid mine drainage (AMD) remediation.
The Stream Team has an efficient, effective monitoring program and maintains a strong partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Because the Stream Team trains citizen-volunteers according to Pennsylvania protocols, DEP uses data generated by the Stream Team for its own use. In turn, DEP’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation permits Stream Team water samples to be analyzed through the DEP Bureau of Laboratories free of charge. This data is then shared with those who request it. Over 20 federal, state, and local agencies use the data to:
- Prioritize restoration projects
- Design AMD treatment systems
- Evaluate the effectiveness of treatment systems
- Improve treatment technologies
- Perform case studies for educational purposes
- Gauge the overall health of area waterways
Currently, the Stream Team is monitoring 150 sites throughout the Kiski–Conemaugh River Basin. Many of these sites are at AMD treatment systems, while others are discharges that should soon be treated. This monitoring will become even more important as Pennsylvania lawmakers determine how money from the abandoned mine lands (AML) fund is allocated. Thousands of dollars will be invested, particularly in watersheds that have a defined hydrologic unit plan or are classified as Qualified Hydrologic Units.
Watersheds with updated water quality data will be among the first to benefit from the AML fund. With the support of DEP, the Stream Team can provide this data much more quickly and inexpensively than a consultant can. Furthermore, with the disbandment of DEP’s Citizen Volunteer Monitoring Program, the potential for data gaps grows. Thus, the Stream Team data becomes even more valuable.
At its inception, the Stream Team was housed under the Loyalhanna Watershed Association. Through LWA, the Stream Team received a 2001 Growing Greener grant to support its mission of educating and engaging citizen stewards in maintaining, enhancing, and restoring the natural resources of the Kiski–Conemaugh River Basin. Growing Greener funds provided HACH testing kits and supplemented staff time and mileage. Several years ago, the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy acquired responsibility for the Stream Team and, understanding its value, leveraged hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of the Stream Team over the years.
Through its environmental stewardship program, the Stream Team directly engages over 6,400 people, particularly youth, in hands-on learning every year. Recognizing that children are spending less time outdoors, the Stream Team has initiated six Trout in the Classroom (TIC) projects in Cambria and Somerset County schools. TIC provides the basic equipment necessary to operate a large classroom aquarium and raise trout fingerlings from eggs. Throughout the school year, students maintain the aquarium system, care for and study the fish, and learn the importance of coldwater ecosystems and conservation. Most importantly, they experience a real, tangible connection to nature that lays the foundation for good conservation practices and a lifelong commitment to stewardship.
Each year, the Stream Team and its partners organize Outdoor Heritage Month, which is designed to celebrate and promote the Alleghenies’ rich cultural and natural heritage while engaging citizens and youth in nature-based activities. It helps people recognize that small steps taken in their homes, communities, and schools can have a significant impact on the environment, and it empowers them to take action.
Outdoor Heritage Month culminates with Outdoor Adventures, a two-day education event for 1,100 students from various educational backgrounds held at scenic Quemahoning Reservoir in Somerset County. Schools from the Allegheny region are invited to attend, and children participate in over three dozen interactive exhibits. They can identify live stream bugs, test out a solar cooker, take a nature walk, witness the power of windmills, go fishing, and more. The Pennsylvania Association for Environmental Educators endorses Outdoor Adventures, and teachers, parents, and exhibitors praise the event.