** This article is from contributing author, Austin Dando. **
Leaves once lush with deep greens now lie underboot. As the mercury drops and the foliage grows weary, the forest yields its summertime vibrance to a new spectacle. It is fall in the valley.
As a fisherman departs from his vehicle and aims downstream, he can’t help but to recount the many times he’s walked this path before.
There are memories from his youth, of wearing hip waders three sizes too big, shakily navigating the unknown terrain behind his Grandfather and catching his first wild brook trout. That was fifty years ago. He recalls moments in his early twenties, of heavy contemplation on the riverbank as he prepared to marry. Knowing life was changing, he wondered if it would slow down or only accelerate with age. He remembers leading his own children, now grown, down these very same footpaths. Now about to become a grandfather himself, the angler receives his answer about the quickness of life. This river has served as a reprieve and a place of solitude, where perspective has always been freely granted.
Removing the hook from its keeper, he casts once again into the watery refuge that is Fishing Creek in Central Pennsylvania.
Fishing Creek is currently at risk for drastic increases in groundwater withdrawal by Nicholas Meats, LLC of Loganton, PA.
Troutbitten stands against this proposal and believes this operation will be detrimental to the sustained life of Fishing Creek, as well as the health and welfare of all living things that rely on it.
(Links for public comment are found at the conclusion of this article.)
Nicholas Meats has submitted a Groundwater Withdrawal Application for one out of three of their recently drilled wells. Well WS-3, Project #2019-109. The water requested will be used for cooling, cleaning, and processing of raw meat from their slaughterhouse in Clinton County.
The water drawn from this well will come from the aquifer which sits beneath Sugar Valley. This is the same aquifer that provides cold, clean water for families, fish, insects and wildlife, all of which depend upon Fishing Creek.
The current proposal from Nicholas Meat requests a maximum daily usage of 120 gallons/minute, equating to 172,800 gallons/day, or 63,072,000 gallons/year (assuming a 365-day operation). For perspective on this amount of water, imagine a swimming pool the size of twenty-four football fields laid end to end, and six feet deep all the way across. That’s simply too much water to withdraw from Fishing Creek.
Within the same proposal are plans for dramatic expansion of that withdrawal in the next fifteen years. Nicholas Meats indicates the rise of water demand to increase by four times. That’s a daily usage of 700,000 gallons/day, or 255,500,000 gallons/year.
This is an unfathomable amount of water to be removed from our small trout stream, year after year.
It is important to know that Nicholas Meats LLC has already begun operating Well 3, unmonitored. In fact, Nicholas Meats was required by a Consent Order and Agreement (CO&A) to obtain a docket of approval when it was found to be withdrawing more than 100,000 gallons/day. This is in direct violation of the SRBC regulatory threshold.
During the discussions regarding Well 3, the two other wells related to the facility were discovered. Well 1 and Well 4. All three wells must be considered collectively by the SRBC.
Also remember, the wastewater must go somewhere. And our Central PA limestone is porous. Nicholas Meats plans to dispose of their wastewater through land application (likely a spray system). If the wastewater is reintroduced to our aquifer after mixing with meat processes, it could lead to contamination of groundwater. Currently, Nicholas hauls their bulk water offsite.
If the application is approved, there is no certainty for the future health of one of Pennsylvania’s premier and most beloved Class A Wild Trout streams. Especially when taking into account our changing weather patterns and unpredictable rainfall forecasts. While the Susquehanna River Basin Commission is conducting environmental surveys and studies, it is difficult to project the outcome in the event this amount of water is removed from its source. To address that notion, the SRBC states:
“The Commission requires aquifer testing to be completed and hydrogeologic information to be provided. Staff uses the aquifer testing results and hydrogeologic information provided in the application to determine if the proposed withdrawal is sustainable and if it will have a significant adverse impact on surface water features, including Fishing Creek. – Additionally, staff is completing an ecological evaluation of the area to help identify and assess potential impacts to aquatic features, species, and habitat. Our review is ongoing and will not be complete for at least several months.”
Risk of sinkholes, lost reaches of river, and karst geology are among top public concerns given the limestone features and structural makeup of Sugar Valley. The SRBC stated they are taking those factors into consideration as well. As stated:
“Losing stream reaches can be natural or caused by groundwater withdrawals when the water table is lower than the bottom of the stream channel. Groundwater withdrawals in karst settings can stimulate sinkhole development and affect stream and spring flows. Commission staff is aware of the karst topography of the area, which will be considered during the review of the application.
What can you do?
These concerns are being addressed because the surrounding community, the general public and anglers like you are already speaking out.
Right now, we have an opportunity to speak on behalf of Fishing Creek and offer a public comment to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. I will stress again, it is not only important to think about the requested groundwater usage of today but the sizable fifteen-year expansion as well.
If you wish to voice your opinion, you can do that HERE.
Information regarding the figures and data provided can be found HERE.
Read the information thoroughly, and draw your own conclusions. It is important that we include as many viewpoints, and well-rounded thoughts as we can. This way the Commission is able to make an educated decision while accounting for public consensus.
Troutbitten stands against this proposal and believes this operation will be detrimental to the sustained life of Fishing Creek, as well as the health and welfare of all living things relying on it.
People from all over the world come to enjoy this watershed, to spend money in the surrounding community, and enrich their lives through this rare, uniquely wild resource. We fear this will be a temporary, monetary gain for Nicholas Meats that leaves a permanent scar on a stream that has a long-standing history and heritage running through its currents.
Let’s stand up for Fishing Creek.
Please share this article with others who care about Fishing Creek.
And here’s the public comment link again:
Please take the time to comment HERE.
— Austin Dando