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Swatara Creek and its watershed have played an important and varied role in the history of south central Pennsylvania. From prehistoric times through today, the watershed has fulfilled the differing needs of its inhabitants. Early inhabitants utilized the watershed as primarily hunting and fishing grounds for their existence. Later, as European settlers colonized the watershed, it continued to provide for sustenance; but it also pro- vided lumber, agricultural soils, and transportation for building a life in the area. The following generations of settlers used the streams of the Swatara Creek watershed to power mills and transport while they harvested the coal, iron, and limestone along their banks, bringing economic prosperity to the area. Today, Swatara Creek and its watershed provide prime agricultural soil for farming, land for development, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities for both residents and visitors.
All of these needs and uses have had an impact on the Swatara Creek watershed. Clearing the forests resulted in increased sediment entering the streams of the watershed. Damming these streams for power and transportation blocked the historic spawning runs of shad, herring, and salmon. Runoff from coal mining left many streams lifeless. Today, increases in the population of the watershed require greater volumes of water for drinking and industrial use. Development of the watershed is also resulting in greater runoff, increased flooding, damage to riparian areas, and less groundwater recharge from precipitation falling in the watershed.
Although problems persist, there have been numerous success stories within the watershed and there is much reason for optimism as a new millennium begins. Projects to address and correct degradation from mine drainage have been successful enough to return diverse fisheries to streams once considered sterile. Clean-ups of litter and refuse along streams and riparian areas have become annual events within the watershed. Projects to rehabilitate riparian buffers and reduce agricultural runoff have been implemented, and in-stream habitat development and water quality monitoring are also conducted within the watershed.
The River Conservation Plan (RCP) for the Swatara Creek watershed has been completed to develop a comprehensive, long term management plan that addresses the problems and concerns, and takes advantage of the opportunities present in the watershed today and the future.
The RCP for the Swatara Creek watershed was initiated following the Swatara Watershed Expo sponsored by the Swatara Creek Watershed Association (SCWA) in 1996. Obtaining listing on the Pennsylvania Rivers Registry and the associated funding opportunities for restoration and management projects were the primary reasons for pursuing and receiving a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) - Rivers Conservation Planning Grant in 1997 and 1998 respectively. Additional funding and support for the project was provided by both public and private organizations; including the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), The William Penn Foundation, Canaan Valley Institute (CVI), IBM, The Greater Harrisburg Foundation, and the Ressler Mill Foundation. Following a series of 1998 public meetings to determine interest and concern for the project. SCWA contracted Mackin Engineering Company to assist in completing the Swatara Creek River Conservation Plan in 1999. A "Draft" document was circulated for public review and comment in July, 2000. Two public meetings were held on July 12th and 13 th to present the findings of the RCP plan. The comment period on the "Draft" plan ended August 15th , 2000. The comments received were incorporated into the "Final" RCP document.
The Swatara Creek watershed drains approximately 571 square miles in Schuylkill, Berks, Lebanon, and Dauphin Counties. Swatara Creek originates in Schuylkill County north of US Route 209 in Foster Township. It flows in a south and southwesterly direction for approximately 69 miles to its confluence with the Susquehanna River in Middletown, Dauphin County, PA. Swatara Creek flows through three physiographic provinces and numerous geologic formations.
The land use within the watershed varies from undeveloped forestland to agricultural fields and farms to residential and urban development. Agricultural land remains the dominant land use in the watershed; but residential and urban development is occurring in portions of the watershed at a rapid pace.
Population within the watershed is growing. From 1960 through 1990 the population of the watershed grew from approximately 179,500 people to approximately 252,300 an increase of 40.6 percent. Population figures from 1998 show the watershed with approximately 263,000 residents or 2.2 percent of the entire population of Pennsylvania. With the exception of the Schuylkill County portion of the watershed, the communities located in the Swatara Creek watershed generally have lower unemployment and higher per capita income than the statewide average.
A detailed analysis of available resource data revealed several issues, concerns, constraints, and opportunities within the watershed. Primary among these were issues of water quality, population growth, land use within the watershed, Swatara Creek State Park, and the Swatara Greenway.
Water quality within the watershed has seen great improvement in the last 30 years. Much of this improvement has been the result of mine restoration projects in the northern portion of the watershed. However, water quality issues, especially those associated with non-point-source (NPS) pollution, are considered the most important in the watershed. Abandoned mine drainage (AMD) from the coalfields of Schuylkill County, runoff and erosion associated with farming and agricultural practices, and runoff from developing and urban areas are all examples of NPS pollution within the watershed.
As stated previously, the Swatara Creek watershed, especially those parts in Berks, Lebanon, and Dauphin Counties, has seen significant population growth in the past 30 years. Projections indicate that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Most of the growth has occurred outside of traditional population centers, in areas historically used for agricultural production. This situation has resulted in the development of new roadways and infrastructure, increased congestion on local roadways, increased pollution, the loss of agricultural soils and farms, and the loss of the aesthetics associated with rural life.
Swatara State Park was identified as a significant resource within the watershed Swatara State Park is the only facility established under Project 70, a 1964 statewide initiative for the development of parks throughout the Commonwealth, that is still undeveloped. As a result, it is greatly underutilized.
Another potentially significant recreational resource is the Swatara Greenway, which is being developed in Dauphin County. The plan was developed as part of the Swatara Creek Greenway and Rivers Conservation Plan completed in 1997. Development of the greenway would increase protection and recreational opportunities along the riparian zone of the stream.
Additional issues, concerns, and opportunities associated with invasive species in the watershed, recreational opportunities and access, cultural resources protection and inventory, and migratory fisheries restoration were also identified.
Management Options were developed to address each of the areas of concern or opportunities in the watershed. A summary of the Management options is presented in the following paragraphs. These options are presented in further detail in Chapter10 and Appendix G of the "Final" RCP document.