Brokenstraw Watershed Council officers welcomed at CCWA gala

Tom Savko of the Brokenstraw Watershed Council speaks about the group’s work to monitor water quality at the Conewango Creek Watershed Association’s annual gala.

The Conewango Creek Watershed Association has years of cleanups and a Pennsylvania River of the Year Award under its belt.

When the members are interested in moving into water quality monitoring, they have a ready mentor in the county.

The guest speakers at the CCWA gala at the Conewango Club on Tuesday were officers of the Brokenstraw Watershed Council (BWC).

“We’re going on 20 years old,” CCWA Board Secretary John Able said. “We’re growing more mature… more effective.”

The association is directing some of its efforts toward locating abandoned and orphan oil and gas wells, some of which are leaking, Able said. “It’s in the best interest of everyone to find those wells… so that we can eventually get around to plugging them.”

BWC’s Interim President Bill Kibler, Tom Savko, and Len Clark spoke about wells in their territory and the lengths their organization has gone to monitor the waters and be prepared for the worst.

The group was founded in 2005, with a focus on best management practices for timbering, monitoring and removing invasive species, protection of the 313-square-mile Brokenstraw Creek watershed and the Spring Creek sub-watershed.

In 2011, a proposal to use non-producing oil and gas wells in Columbus Township, part of the watershed, gave the organization a new focus. The wells are close to 50 years old and about 4,500 feet deep, Savko said. The proposal was eventually approved, allowing injection of residual waste from the drilling industry, medical waste, and industrial waste, to be disposed by forcing it into the wells.

The maximum allowable amount is 30,000 (42-gallon) barrels per month per well, he said. “They inject it at the surface at about 1,600 to 1,700 pounds per square inch. It’s small amounts continuously.”

When production dipped in the region, the injection wells were in less demand. “The waste stopped coming,” Savko said. “They sold it this past year.”

There may not be as much waste being actively pumped into the wells, but there is waste under the ground.

Even if it is currently locked in, which is uncertain, Savko said, “if there was an earthquake that changes a fault and there’s all this stuff in there, where can it go? That is our concern.”

Tamarack Swamp is a short distance — 400 to 500 yards — from the wells, and is a major concern for the council.

So, the group has taken steps to monitor the water — which is the best they can do, for now. “You have no authority,” Savko said. “All you can do is care about the environment.”

“You’re also the canary in the coal mine,” he said.

Members went through Dickinson College Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM) training.

Certified monitors collected samples for testing each week for a year to establish a baseline. Those results are now official and can be used in court in the event of a pollution event, Savko said.

The group has not had to notify ALLARM nor any environmental protection agencies about events. “We hope we never do,” Kibler said. “We’ve done all we can do. We can sleep at night.”

“We’ve been reactive,” Kibler said. “Now, we’re going to be proactive.”

The members of the council offered their help to the association. “If your organization ever wants to get into the monitoring program, we’d be more than willing to work with you,” Kibler said.

Volunteer of the year

John Foreman was named the association’s volunteer of the year.

Foreman participated in all of the clean-up events this year, according to CCWA Board Member Sue Nielsen. “He was there every day” at the river clean-up. He’s one of the first people there for whatever event we do.”

Nielsen said Foreman acts like he’s involved in a clean-up every time he’s on the creek. “It’s not just when other people are gathered together that he’s picking up trash.”

“I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to participate, in the clean-up so much this year,” Foreman said. When he sees trash in the creek “I can’t help it, I pick it up. It shouldn’t be there.”

“More than that, it’s the camaraderie that keeps me coming back,” he said.

Foreman is one of many who make the association’s work successful.

“It’s really important to have community support. We really appreciate the many hours and hands that go into our efforts,” CCWA Chairman Liz Dropp said. She compared the long-term clean-up effort to the creation of a beach. “Every battery, every bottle, that we pull out of there is a grain of sand going into that beach.”

Winners

The gala raffle winners were Ed Cramer, John Schultz, and Art Miller.

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