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Chapter 3 : Land Resources
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The primary factors causing soil variations within the Swatara Creek Watershed are the nature of the parent material, climate, topographic relief, flora and fauna that live in and on the soil, human influences, and the length of time that these factors have affected development of the soil. These factors have created soil associations, which within the watershed basin, consist of 19 major soils and combinations of minor soils (Table 3-1). Soil characteristic information was collected from the soil surveys of Berks, Dauphin, Lebanon and Schuylkill Counties. These surveys were developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in conjunction with the Pennsylvania State University.
Along the headwaters of Swatara Creek, Udorthents-Dekalb-Hazelton soils predominate. Most land associated with this soil unit is in woodland; however, there are also small areas of urban development. These well drained, steeply sloping soils exhibit good potential for trees and woodlands. The predominance of large stones on the surface, the shallow depth to bedrock, and steep slope of these soils limit their potential for farming and development.
Upper and Lower Little Swatara Creeks form the remainder of the watershed in Schuylkill County. Berks- Hartleton-Weikert soils predominate along these waters. Land associated with this soil unit is mostly in agricultural and urban use. These well-drained soils are well suited for farming. Soil permeability, shallow depth to bedrock, and the large amount of coarse fragments are limits to these soils for non-farm use.
Schuylkill County is located in the Valley and Ridge Physiographic Province, Appalachian Mountain Section. Synclines and anticlines are numerous and result from the folding and faulting of bedrock in this area. The physical makeup of the Appalachian Mountain Section consists of a series of parallel valleys and ridges cut through by numerous streams. The ridges are composed of sandstone and conglomerate and trend in a northeast direction across the county. The southern end of the anthracite coalfields is located in the Swatara Creek watershed. Anthracite coalfields, historically the most important mineral resource to the area, are located in the ridges of the northern headwaters of the watershed. The valleys of the region are primarily composed of shale and siltstone.
Along Swatara Creek in the northeastern corner of Lebanon County, the Laidig-Hazelton-Leck-Kill soil association is dominant. This association gives way to Berks-Weikert-Bedington soils that predominate along the creek through the remainder of the county as the stream flows to the southwest. The Laidig-Hazelton-Leck Kill soils are found on tops, side slopes and foot slopes of mountains, summits, and ridges in northern Lebanon County. The soils are primarily in woodland because the soils’ stony and steep nature and slow permeability limit its use for cultivation or development. The Berks-Weikert-Bedington soils are found in the west central and northern portions of Lebanon County. These soils are generally well suited for most agricultural uses, but shallow bedrock and limited available water are limitations for other uses.
Little Swatara Creek flows from its headwaters in Berks County through the central portion of Lebanon County to its confluence with Swatara Creek near Jonestown, PA. This section of the Swatara Creek watershed is mainly associated with the Bedington-Berks-Holly and Neshaminy-Berks-Holly soils located along tops, side slopes, and foot slopes of broad hills and flood plains. Although these soils are predominantly used for crops and hay, some woodland and urban development exists. Other sub-watersheds to the south and west within the watershed lie within Hagerstown-Duffield-Clarksburg soils found on broad plains and tops, benches, and side slopes and foot slopes of low limestone ridges in broad valleys. This soil unit is predominantly used for crops, hay, and pasture. Other uses include limestone quarries and some urban and industrial development.
Photo 3-1: View of Hagerstown-Duffield-Clarksburg association along Snitz Creek in Lebanon County.
Lebanon County is located within the Ridge and Valley physiographic province. A small portion to the north is in the Appalachian Mountain Section of the province while the remainder of the county is in the Great Valley Section. Where Swatara Creek enters the county from Schuylkill County to the east, bedrock is Middle Paleozoic sandstone, shale, and conglomerate formations. In contrast, where Little Swatara Creek flows through the county, bedrock of the Lower Paleozoic shale, limestone, and dolomite formations predominate. Further south in the watershed, sinkholes and solution cavities are common within the carbonate rocks associated with the karst topography. Limestone, dolomite, and shale are common within this section of the watershed. Andesite extrusions are also present within his section of the watershed
As Swatara Creek progresses into Dauphin County flowing in a westerly direction, it passes through the Berks-Bedington-Weikert association. These soils of mostly low-lying areas are used for general farming and for dairy and livestock businesses. As Swatara Creek continues and begins to flow towards the south- southwest, it passes through the Hagerstown-Duffield association. These soils are best suited for general farming. The creek then turns to the southwest toward the Susquehanna River and passes through the Lewisberry- Penn-Athol association. These soils are also best suited for general farming. To the east of the creek is the Duncannon-Chavies-Tioga association; these soils are best suited for general farming and urban development.
The Dauphin County portion of the Swatara Creek watershed contains parts of three sections in two physiographic provinces. The northern end of the watershed is located in the Appalachian Mountain Section of the Ridge and Valley Province. The portion of the watershed in the central region of Dauphin County is in the Great Valley Section of the Ridge and Valley Province. These geologic sections closely resemble the descriptions given in the discussions of Schuylkill and Lebanon Counties. Finally, in the southern end of both the watershed and the county, Swatara Creek flows into the Gettysburg-Newark Lowland Section of the Piedmont Physiographic Province. This section of the Piedmont Region is characterized by rolling lowlands with some isolated hills. The bedrock is composed primarily of gray and red sandstone, shales, conglomerate, and diabase.
The headwaters of Little Swatara Creek originate along the Berks/Schuylkill County border on Blue Mountain in the Edgemont-Dekalb Association. The soils of this association are found on the steep slopes of Blue Mountain and are moderately deep and well drained. Because of the steep slopes and low nutrient content, these soils are not well suited for agricultural or other development; therefore, virtually all of these soils found in the watershed are forested. Further downstream the watershed is located in the Laidig-Buchanan-Andover Association. These soils are generally deep and moderately well drained, but due to stony conditions and seasonal high water tables, they are limited for use in crop cultivation. Pasture farming, campsites, cabins, and forested land are the primary land uses for these soils. Finally, as the watershed continues eastward towards Lebanon County, it enters the Berks-Weikert-Bedington Association. Although the Weikert soils are considered low in nutrients and are prone to droughty conditions, the majority of these soils are in some type of cultivation. If slopes or runoff are too great, some of these areas are left in woodland or used for pasture. Other types ofdevelopment are limited due to the shallow depth to bedrock.
The Berks County section of the Swatara Creek Watershed contains both the Appalachian Mountain and Great Valley Sections of the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province. The section of the watershed located on Blue Mountain is in the Appalachian Mountain Section, while the remainder of the watershed is in the Great Valley Section. The descriptions of these physiographic provinces are the same as those given for Schuylkill and Lebanon Counties.
The USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) designates prime agricultural soils in each of the counties in the watershed. Prime agricultural soils contain soil factors and slope features that are extremely well suited for agricultural purposes. These soils are deep, well drained, and level to nearly level. The same factors that make these soil types ideal for agriculture also make them an excellent soil type for development. Therefore, the locations and acreage of prime agricultural soils are important tools that can be used to plan for future development without removing important agricultural resources.
Within the watershed, the majority of prime agricultural soil is located within the Great Valley section of the watershed. Much of this soil acreage is found in Lebanon County; however, significant acreage is also found in Dauphin and Berks Counties. Fewer prime farmland soils are found within the Appalachian Mountain Section of the watershed, Schuylkill County, the northern half of Dauphin County, and the northern end and edge of Lebanon and Berks Counties respectively. Much of the watershed in Schuylkill County has been mined, or is located among very steep slopes, which preclude it from being considered prime farmland. The Swatara Creek Valley, south of Sharp Mountain in southern Schuylkill County, contains the greatest amount of prime agricultural soils in this section of the watershed.
Agricultural Security Areas (ASA’s) are actively farmed lands, which have been enrolled into a statewide program that restricts development options for the properties. In addition, ASA’s protect the areas from indiscriminant condemnation, allow for farming of the area in the future, and prevent nuisance legislation detrimental to farming operations. A minimum of 250 acres is required for an ASA and they must be renewed every seven years. Local municipalities and counties administer ASA’s. Total acreage of ASA’s in the municipalities of the watershed is presented in Table 3-2 and locations of the ASA’s are presented on Figure 3-1. Totals are based upon February, 2000 information received from the Pennsylvania Farm Preservation Bureau.
In addition to ASA’s, Pennsylvania and county governments are also purchasing development easements of prime agricultural lands, located within ASA’s, for the purpose of preserving the areas in agricultural production, in perpetuity. Each of the counties in the watershed has farmland in the easement program; however, Lebanon and Berks Counties have much higher acreages than Dauphin and Schuylkill. Table 3-3 presents the total acreage found within the watershed by county and municipality.
Industrial companies or individuals privately own the majority of the land within the watershed. Both large and small companies own land related to industrial uses such as rail corridors, mining operations, and light industrial manufacturing. Privately owned and operated farms form a considerable portion of ownership especially in Lebanon County.
Publicly owned land includes a number of state game lands, state forests, state parks and to a lesser extent, institutional buildings, river access sites, open space, and local parks and recreational facilities. These areas are detailed in the Cultural Resources Section of this report. Public land accounts for approximately 49,000 ac (13%) of the land within the watershed. The remainder of the land in the watershed is privately owned.
Figure 3-1 presents the breakdown between publicly and privately owned lands.
Photo 3-2View of Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Sweet Arrow Lake Public Access Point, one of many publicly controlled lands throughout the watershed
There are no active permitted landfills within the watershed in Berks or Dauphin Counties. However, the Harrisburg Waste to Energy incinerator located in Middletown is a short-term repository for waste. In addition, there are two closed landfills located in the watershed in Dauphin County. One was located in Derry Township and one was located in West Hanover Township.
The Greater Lebanon Refuse Authority owns and operates a 400-acre landfill site located approximately 3.5 miles north of the City of Lebanon. The landfill serves some 26 different cities, townships, and boroughs within Lebanon County. Estimates predict 74,000 tons of waste annually, of which 60% is from residential sources, 20% from commercial sources, 14% from construction/demolition sources, and 6% from industrial sources (Giefer, 1999).
Pine Grove Landfill located in Pine Grove Township, Schuylkill County and is a privately 77-acre site owned and operated by The Pine Grove Landfill, Inc. This landfill has been in operation for several years and is currently seeking to expand the facility. The operation accepts municipal waste from surrounding communities and some residual waste, which has to be approved by the DEP prior to placement within the facility. Pine Grove Landfill was found to be in violation on numerous occasions due to malodors and odors emanating from the landfill in 1995.
Commonwealth Environmental Services Landfill is a 240 acre (34 in actual landfill) privately operated landfill located within Foster Township. This operation was permitted in 1994 and currently has a permit modification pending. The landfill accepts municipal waste. No notices of violation were recorded for the operation.
Two other landfills were formerly in operation within the Schuylkill County portion of the watershed. These operations, the Pine Grove Twp. and John Fry landfills are currently inactive, although there are permits on file for the facilities. Two composting facilities are also located in Schuylkill County. They are the Branch Twp. Yard Waste Composting Facility and the Hillside Composting Facility. The Branch Twp. facility was permitted in 1997. The Hillside facility’s permit is pending.
An inventory of hazardous and toxic waste sites was conducted for the entire Swatara Creek watershed using the Environmental Protection Agencies’ (EPA) database and the Right to Know Network. This query system identified waste management facilities listed within the following regulatory databases:
Summaries of information obtained through the search are contained in Appendix B of this document. Up to date and complete results of this database search, as well as descriptions of the federal environmental legislation regulating each of these facilities can be located by accessing the Right To Know Network on the Internet atwww.rtk.net.
The Right To Know Network Database was used to identify any Large Quantity Generators (LQG) located within the watershed. LQGs are operations that produce > 2,200 Lbs. of hazardous waste in any given month of the year. In addition, a review of RCRIS list was also used to quantify the number of Small Quantity Generators (SQG), Waste Transporters (WT) located within the watershed. No RCRIS listed Storage, Treatment, and Disposal (STD) facilities were located within the watershed.
No LQGs were located within the Berks County portion of the watershed. A total of 11 LQGs were identified within the remainder of the watershed. Table 3-6 presents these sites as well as information pertinent to these sites. This information was current as of March, 2000. Summaries of each of these sites can be found in Appendix C.
A total of 214 SQGs (70 in Dauphin, 133 in Lebanon, 9 in Schuylkill, and 2 in Berks County) and 13 WTs (11 in Dauphin, 1 in Lebanon, and 1 in Berks Counties) were listed within the watershed.
No Pennsylvania Superfund Sites (NPLs) were identified within the watershed. No active CERCLIS sites were identified within either the Dauphin, Schuylkill or Berks County sections of the watershed.
One CERCLIS site was identified within Lebanon County. The U.S. Army Indiantown Gap Landfill (EPA ID# PA8210020444) located at Fort Indiantown Gap Reservation in Annville, PA is not listed on the NPL. The most recently listed action on the database is a Preliminary Assessment of the site for higher priority on the Federal Facilities List. This assessment was completed in 1992.
Toxic Release Inventory
The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) is a public information Right-To-Know report that presents information about chemical releases and discharges associated with manufacturing industries. Information from this database was obtained from the Right To Know Network.
The information obtained from the TRI is presented in Appendix C. A total of five industries were identified as having releases within the watershed. No violations regarding these discharges were noted and all facilities are assumed to be in compliance with applicable regulations. Updated information from the TRI can be obtained from the Right To Know Network Internet site atwww.rtk.net.
Permit Compliance System
The Permit Compliance System (PCS) provides information on National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits for surface water discharges under the Clean Water Act. Utilizing the Right To Know Database, a total of 17 permitted facilities were identified in the watershed. There is insufficient data to determine compliance with permit parameters or the severity of any potential violations. Updated information for the PCS can be obtained from the Right To Know Network Internet site atwww.rtk.net.
Numerous abandoned coalmines and limestone quarries are located within the watershed. All of the abandoned mines are located within Schuylkill County in the northern end of the watershed. These abandoned mines run the gamut from small family worked mines to huge corporate operations that cover hundreds of acres. Abandoned mines are located in Frailey Township, Tremont Township, Tremont Borough, and to a lesser extent within Reilly and Porter Townships. Processing coal from underground deep mines and surface strip mines has left a legacy of coal refuse piles, surface scars, and abandoned mine drainage (AMD).
Existing refuse piles pose a danger to the water quality of streams within their watersheds as well as potential air quality problems resulting from fires burning on the steep slopes of these piles. Underground mine pools resulting from deep mining efforts of the past threaten both groundwater and surface waters with AMD. Lorberry Creek in Tremont Township, Good Spring Creek in Fraily Township, the Rowe Tunnel and the Tracy Airhole represent major sub-watersheds contributing to AMD problems within Swatara Creek.
Photo 3-3:View of AMD discharge associated with Tracy Airhole in Schuylkill County.
Based upon information received from Mr. Dan Koury of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Pottsville Mining office, there are a total of 22 permitted non-coal-mining operations in the Swatara Creek watershed (Appendix D). Eighteen of these operations are currently active. The other four have not yet started operations. The non-coal operations are primarily located in Lebanon and Dauphin Counties with ten and six operations respectively. Berks and Schuylkill counties have three operations each. These operations are primarily shale and limestone quarries.
In addition to the non-coal mining operations, coal-mining permits are also active within the watershed. Of these permits, 37 are currently active an additional 13 are not started, inactive, forfeited, or regraded. All of the coal mining permits are located in Schuylkill County. The coal operations are made up of deep mining operations, strip mining operations, coal preparation, and reprocessing.
The current list of coal and non-coal mining permits is located in Appendix D.
Photo 3-4:Active limestone quarry along Route 422 between Lebanon and Annville.
Within the watershed, sinkholes are prevalent in portions of Dauphin and Lebanon Counties. These areas are located over limestone and dolomite bedrock formations associated with portions of the Great Valley Physiographic Section. These sinkholes result from long term dissolution of the limestone rock by infiltrating water. They serve as conduits for surface water to reach underlying limestone formations and serve as a direct link to groundwater. In rural location sinkholes have historically been used as dumps and the potential for groundwater contamination is great in these areas. Greater knowledge and education regarding sinkholes and the special environmental hazards that they pose has increased efforts to eliminate dumping into sinkholes as well as prevent their formation in developed areas.
No sinkholes were identified within the Swatara Creek watershed in Berks and Schuylkill Counties.
a. Lebanon County
The Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey has identified a total of 93 sinkholes within the watershed in Lebanon County. Lebanon Counties’ sinkhole concentration is primarily located along the Route 422 corridor. It runs through Palmyra Borough where the concentrations are the greatest. Additional concentrations of sinkholes are located along U.S. 322 in South Annville Township and in the City of Lebanon. The majority of these sinkholes are located on the Epler geologic formation. The sinkholes located in urbanized areas are often the result of storm water runoff or waterline breaks. In addition to the Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey sinkhole database, a study of sinkholes, funded by the League of Women Voters and PADEP, was completed for Lebanon County. The study information can be found in the Report titledSinkholes of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania published in 1998.
b. Dauphin County
The Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey has identified a total of 37 sinkholes within the watershed in Dauphin County. Areas of sinkhole concentration within the Dauphin County portion of the watershed are found within Derry Township in the vicinity of Hershey and extending south within the township towards the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76). Again, the majority of the sinkholes are found on the Epler geologic formation. No outside studies have been completed on the sinkholes of Dauphin County.
Appendix D presents the Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey sinkhole data for both Lebanon and Dauphin Counties.
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