PIKE COUNTY, PA — The Pike County Conservation District (PCCD) wants to get the word out—Pike County can still claim excellent water quality and should make every effort to protect its valuable water resources.
To that end, biologist and PCCD associate director Ken Ersbak has developed “Water Wonders of Pike County,” a presentation that he has begun sharing with the community and at the most recent meeting of the PCCD directors on October 15.
The program highlights standards used for stream water quality designation, attributes of Pike County that contribute to its excellent water quality. The county ranks 15th in the state in its number of Exceptional Value (EV) streams, a designation determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection which affords certain protections.
The county’s high-quality water can be attributed in part to long-term conservation practices upheld by PCCD, which has been performing a water-quality monitoring program for the last 30 years and expanding that with additional components. PCCD began by sampling chemical and physical parameters, later adding macroinvertebrates, stream habitat assessments and fish population surveys.
“Recent focus has been on the biological component because we feel that is the one that really tells us what’s going on in these streams,” said Ersbak. “We look at the life forms that live in these waters, as well as the chemical and physical nature of the water and the habitat that exists for these organisms. Much like the canary in the coal mine, the organisms provide an early warning of hazardous changes in water quality.”
Ersbak likened the monitoring to a physical and biological checkup. “We come up with something called biological integrity, which is an index that measures the water quality standard,” he explained. “By monitoring it, we can tell whether the biological integrity of that water resource has changed since the last time we visited. It helps us to identify those streams that are extremely important to protect from future impacts.”
Monitoring can reveal environmental trends and cycles, too. PCCD now has 50 stream-monitoring sites including 18 baseline stations in Pike County. “We have a program in which we visit streams every three to five years to see if there have been changes,” said Ersbak. “We pick up new sites if there is a development such as gas transmission lines crossing a stream.”
Another reason for Pike’s excellent water quality is that more than 40% of the county’s 545 square miles of land is in some way protected from development or other potential impacts.
Intact land contributes greatly to water quality; in Pike County, 19% of land is in state forests, 10% is in private fishing and hunting clubs, 7% is in state gamelands, 4% is in federal land and 1% is in state parks.
Ersbak also discussed the connection between high-quality waterways and the benefits to the regional economy due to outdoor recreation and tourism. He cited statistics showing that tourists spend more than $220 million in the county, generating $53 million in taxes and supporting approximately 7,000 tourism-related jobs.
“People come to Pike because the recreational resource is excellent,” he said. “We have bird watchers and waterfowl hunters who seek out a diverse selection of species; anglers, boaters and hikers who enjoy numerous opportunities for recreation on Pike County waters and trails; and residents who live here for the natural serenity and unparalleled beauty that the county offers.
Ersbak also identified some immediate and long-term threats to county waters, such as atmospheric and chemical pollutants, industrial spills, aging community and individual sewage systems, riparian buffer alterations, commercial and residential development, erosion, sedimentation, stormwater runoff, expansions of electric and gas transmission lines and consumption of water for natural gas development.
All of this points to the need for greater understanding and vigilance when it comes to Pike’s waters, according to Ersbak. “Our hope is that PCCD can now take this program out to schools and municipalities, to whatever public entity that wants to listen, and make it clear that we understand how lucky we are to be living in this county.”
Ersbak is general manager of the Forest Lake Hunting and Fishing Club and partner with Aquatic Resource Consulting, a professional resource management service providing fishery assessments and watershed, stream habitat, lake and pond management.
Visit www.pikeconservation.org  for more information or call 570/226-8220.