How the Rausch Creek Diversion Wells Work

Located just north of the old stone arch railroad bridge over Rausch Creek is believed to be the first limestone diversion well ever to be built in the United States. Patterned after a Swedish design, construction of the original circular well was begun in 1986 by the Dauphin Chapter of Trout Unlimited in conjunction with the PA Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Unit of Pennsylvania State University. The second (square) well was completed in 2000 by volunteers of Trout Unlimited’s Doc Fritchey Chapter, successor to the Dauphin Chapter, renamed in recognition of Dr. John A. Fritchey, Jr’s successful efforts during the 1970s to save the Stony Valley wilderness from commercial development.

The term “diversion” refers to the fact that part of the flow to be treated is diverted from the main stream channel. “Well” refers to the physical structure temporarily containing water diverted from the stream channel. Located approximately 100 yards upstream of the wells are two intake pipes which feed the water through nozzles into the wells with sufficient force to pulverize the bed of limestone gravel. The intakes are positioned such that only the circular well functions year round, and the square well is activated only during periods of high stream flow. The highly alkaline limestone particles reenter the main stream channel and chemically react to neutralize acidic water originating upstream from old coal mine drainages and acid precipitation from rainfall.

Treating the acidic water of Rausch Creek results in a significant increase in pH (the greater the number, the less acidity), from an average of about 4.0 above the wells to over 6.0 just below the discharge. Although the appearance of clear water tumbling over the the rocks in the stream above the wells would lead the casual observer to conclude that the water is of good quality, no fish life is present there. In contrast, healthy brook trout can sometimes be observed just a few yards downstream from the old bridge. Since Rausch Creek is the largest tributary of Stony Creek, the treated water has a profound effect on the main stem for a significant number of miles downstream. Routine measurements of the pH near Ellendale Forge some 15 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 temperature and metals content also must be considered, research has shown that a minimum pH threshold of 5.0 will support a trout population of all age classes. Prior to the original diversion well installation in 1986, trout stocked in Stony Creek survived for relatively short periods due to the higher acidity levels.

The Doc Fritchey Chapter acknowledges the ongoing cooperation of the PA State Game Commission in providing the opportunity to build and maintain these wells on State Game Lands #211 property. And equally important to the success of this operation are the generous donations of limestone from Pennsy Supply’s Annville Quarry and the transportation of stone by John Reigel Trucking. The wells are maintained weekly on a year‑round basis, and volunteers are always welcome to assist Doc Fritchey TU with this work.

 

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