Over 19,000 miles of waterways in Pennsylvania are damaged by various forms of pollution, according to B.J. Small, communications and media coordinator for Harrisburg’s branch of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The Conodoguinet and the Yellow Breeches streams in Cumberland County are no different.
“The Conodoguinet faces a lot of the same challenges those waterways do: polluted runoff, and this can be from agriculture, storm water, any kind of runoff carried by rain,” Small said. “Agriculture is the No. 1 source for polluted runoff and that’s everywhere in Pa.”
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s mission is to “restore and protect it,” and the way to do that is by helping to improve and educate those in the state on the local waterways. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment are the three most common pollutants in local waters.
While those three pollutants are common in waterways such as those in the county and state due to the amount of farming and warehouses throughout, in August the Chesapeake Bay Foundation revealed spikes of E. coli bacteria in both the Conodoguinet and the Yellow Breeches creeks.
Water samples were taken 14 times between June 1 and Aug. 9 at 10 locations throughout Cumberland and Dauphin counties before and after heavy rain storms. The Cumberland locations involved three points along the Conodoguinet Creek and three along the Yellow Breeches Creek. Levels of E. coli were much higher after rain, Small said.
Without more expansive, and expensive, testing, there’s no way to determine if the E. coli in local waterways is harmful or if it comes from human or animal sources, according to Small.
The amount of runoff pollution doesn’t help that.
Julie Vastine, director of Dickinson College’s ALLARM program (Alliance for Aquatic Resources Monitoring), agrees that nonpoint source pollution — runoff from farms or warehouses, municipalities — is one of the biggest impacts in the Conodoguinet, a source of drinking water for those in the greater Carlisle area.
ALLARM provides educational opportunities for Dickinson students to learn fundamental environmental, community engagement, science education and nonprofit skills while working in and with the local community to help improve local water quality, as well as that of the Chesapeake Bay.
The program and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are similar in the methods they use to try and combat pollution on the state’s bodies of water.
“Everybody has a stake in this,” Small said. “There’s not one silver bullet that will solves this, but landowners fertilizing their lawns can ensure not using more fertilizer than they need; you can put in rain gardens that collect and rain let it soak into the earth; you can plant trees. Farmers can plant trees called streamside buffers that filter and absorbs polluted runoff.”
ALLARM’s Assistant Director of Outreach Holden Sparacino said that the program sometimes holds community workshops throughout the year where residents can come together and create their own rain barrels from recycled pickle jars. The water collected can later be used to water plants, wash cars, he said.
There are also efforts to occasionally get out in the community and clear storm drains so that storm water doesn’t drag debris and other trash into the sewers, and thus, back into the waterways.
There’s no easy solution to preventing runoff pollution in the Conodoguinet, or even the Yellow Breeches Creek, LeTort Spring Run and other local bodies of water, but a collective community effort, according to Small and Vastine, is a start.