Stony Creek Diversion Well Story
An Ongoing Success Story for Doc Fritchey TU
In northern Lebanon County deep within State Game Lands #211 there is a movement afoot to combat the acidic effects of abandoned mine drainage into Rausch Creek, a major tributary of Stony Creek. The movement referred to is what is known technically as a mover diversion well, the first of its kind to be built in the United States. Patterned after a Swedish design, the original diversion well was constructed in 1987 as a joint project of Pennsylvania State University and the Dauphin Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Ironically, the mover diversion well contains no moving parts. Instead, it’s the movement of stream water diverted by an upstream dam through a pipeline leading into a chamber containing crushed limestone. Water under hydraulic pressure enters the chamber through a nozzle which directs the flow against the limestone, causing the rock to be ground into powder before re-entering Rausch Creek.
Treating the acidic water of Rausch Creek results in a pH increase (the higher the number,
the less acidity) from an average of about 4.0 above the well to over 6.0 several hundred yards below the outflow. Although the appearance of the clear water tumbling over rocks upstream of the well would lead the casual observer to conclude that the stream is of high quality, no fish life is present there. Downstream less than a hundred yards, healthy brook trout can sometimes be observed from the old stone arch bridge on the Stony Creek Trail.
Since Rausch Creek is the largest tributary to Stony Creek, the treated water has a profound effect on the main stem for a significant number of miles. Routine measurements of the pH near Allendale Forge some fifteen or so miles downstream reveal readings averaging over 6.0, adequate to support a year-round population of both brook and brown trout. Although other factors such as a stream’s metals content also must be weighed, research has shown that a minimum pH threshold of 5.0 will support a healthy trout population of all age classes. Prior to the diversion well installation in 1987, trout stocked in Stony Creek by the PA Fish & Boat Commission survived for relatively short periods due to the higher acidity levels.
Since 1987, the diversion well has been faithfully maintained by members of Doc Fritchey TU. Founded in 1971 as the Dauphin Chapter, the local chapter was later renamed in honor of Dr. John A. “Doc” Fritchey, Jr. who mounted a major campaign to save Stony Valley from planned commercial exploitation during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Weekly maintenance of the well has depended upon volunteer labor to transport approximately 2 tons of crushed limestone by wheelbarrow and shovel it into the treatment chamber, year-round.
Over the years it was observed during periods of higher than normal flow that pH levels downstream from the well would temporarily drop to as low as 5.3, seriously threatening the integrity of the fish population. Since the original plan developed by Dr. Dean E. Arnold of the PA Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit suggested a supplementary well to handle high stream flow conditions, Doc Fritchey TU personnel decided in 2000 to add a second well in tandem with the original installation.
Chapter volunteers went to work in August 2000 constructing the supplementary well. The original diversion dam was restructured, approximately 100 yards of trenching was dug and pipe laid, and the new concrete well chamber was installed. Although significant manual labor was involved, donation of earth-moving equipment by local Caterpillar dealer Cleveland Brothers greatly reduced the man-hours and the physical effort required. Funds for purchasing project materials were provided under grants from national TU’s Embrace-A-Stream Program and the Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR). Since additional tonnage is required to charge the second well, the limestone supply was moved down the hill adjacent to the wells, now allowing volunteers to shovel stone directly from the stockpile into both chambers.
Doc Fritchey TU is thankful for all of the volunteer support over the years, and particularly appreciates the ongoing donation of limestone from Pennsy Supply’s Annville quarry and transportation of limestone to the site by Sensenig Excavating, following the many years of transportation services previously provided by Reigel Brothers Trucking.
Anyone who is interested in helping with weekly maintenance is welcome to show up at the Stony Creek Trail northern gate on State Game Lands #211, just west of Gold Mine Road at the base of Second Mountain. Check the Calendar page for current schedule.