America’s Most Endangered Rivers® Report: 2009 Edition
#7 Laurel Hill Creek, Pennsylvania
Threat: Water Withdrawals
Partners: Mountain Watershed Association, home of the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, Chestnut Ridge Trout Unlimited
Laurel Hill Creek is a Pennsylvania treasure that brings in valuable recreation and tourism dollars to local communities. But the creek lacks safeguards to protect it from excessive water withdrawals for development and energy extraction. Unless water planners heed the sound water management advice in Pennsylvania’s new State Water Plan, water withdrawals could irreparably harm the clean water, fish and wildlife, and recreation in the creek and downstream on the popular Youghiogheny River. Learn More
UPDATE (October 2009): Laurel Hill Creek was recently spared from further harm but still lacks the Critical Water Planning Area (CWPA) safeguards to protect it from excessive water withdrawals. On July 27th, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) formally denied the permit to Cooper Springs Trout Hatchery to withdraw 108,000 gallons of water per day in the Shafer Run sub-basin of Laurel Hill for water bottling companies. Over 150 people attended a public meeting in opposition to the proposed permit and Senator Richard Kasunic and Representative Carl Walker Metzgar, Jr. publicly opposed the bottling permit.
The denial of the permit was applauded around the area; however, Laurel Hill Creek’s future is severely stressed by a growing number of permitted developments. The rapid expansion of Marcellus shale energy production, which requires massive water withdrawals, also continues to be a threat though no permitted withdrawals are occurring now.
A new threat recently emerged with the permit application for a limestone surface mine which will extend into the Shafer Run watershed of Laurel Hill Creek in the vicinity of a Somerset Borough well used for drinking water. PA DEP has been instrumental in steering natural gas drillers away from Laurel Hill Creek as a water supply for hydraulic fracturing, but this issue highlights the importance of the CWPA designation, as it is currently the only viable tool to protect Laurel Hill Creek into the future. The Ohio Regional Water Resources Committee met August 31st to discuss the formal nomination as a CWPA and to vote to move it forward to the state committee. PA DEP must secure the CWPA designation for Laurel Hill Creek as a solid starting point from which to advocate for sound planning, management, and protection.