Located on the Allegheny National Forest in McKean County, the South Branch Kinzua Creek has several miles of tributaries impaired by acid precipitation. This stream is a high quality watershed managed as a wilderness trout stream by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. The PFBC has identified that the aquatic community of the headwater reaches of South Branch Kinzua Creek are limited by pH (4.6 to 4.8su) and alkalinity (0 to 1 mg/l).
The South Branch of Kinzua Creek Acid Remediation Project, nicknamed "The Road to Brook Trout Recovery," began in 2008 as a cooperative effort between the PFBC, Penn State Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies (CDGR), and the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) to assess an innovative new approach for treating acidified streams while repairing and maintaining dirt and gravel roads. The project was completed as a demonstration project for dirt and gravel roads and may assist in the development of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for watershed scale acid rain buffering in catchments where the natural buffering capacity of soils and geology are lacking.
Acid precipitation is negatively affecting streams throughout the Allegheny National Forest. Over time, chronic acidification leaches base cations from soils and decreases a watershed's natural buffering capacity. Eventually, stream pH and alkalinity levels decrease and dissolved aluminum levels rise to a point where a stream can no longer support a healthy aquatic community.
In 2009, the ANF and the PFBC constructed 2,600 feet of alkaline road runoff channels (ARRCs) in concert with routine Forest Service road maintenance that will supply buffering capacity to the watershed via the roadside ditches. This included the placement of limestone sand or crab-shell chitin in roadside channels as a means of adding alkalinity during rain and snowmelt events, using the road and its ditches as a passive treatment system. In addition, these sections of road were surfaced with limestone driving surface aggregate. Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture funding has been secured and will be used to expand treatment efforts in the South Branch of Kinzua Creek watershed in the summer of 2011. This funding, in addition to USFS road maintenance funding, will cover the construction of an additional 10,000 feet of ARRCs in the South Branch Kinzua Creek watershed.
Biological and water quality monitoring efforts of these treatments continue with the assistance of McKean County Conservation District (MCCD), Clarion University of Pennsylvania (CUP), Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) and a collection of WIN's volunteers. The results have been promising. Improvements in water quality have been documented in each of the treated stream reaches. Alkalinity and pH levels rose sharply and then leveled off to adequate levels. Fish populations have also responded positively in two of the three treatment reaches. Spring 2010, fish surveys confirmed the successful recruitment of young-of-the-year brook trout and the presence of two new species while fall 2010 brook trout redd (a breeding area in a creek bed) surveys documented an increase in spawning effort in two of the three treatment reaches.