Fish Kill on Valley Creek

On Friday, January 14, 2022 shortly before 8:00 a.m. there was an explosive water main break under the roadway of Route 401 in the vicinity of the rear driveway to Great Valley High School, between Route 202 and Phoenixville Pike.   The repair excavation extended across both west bound lanes causing the road to be closed for some period of time.  The eruption from the blown-out pipe pushed a huge amount of gravel and mud into the Exceptional Value stream, Valley Creek filling the adjacent stream channel.  That was bad for the stream but the drinking water spill was much worse.  The chlorine in our public drinking water mains is in a strong enough concentrated enough to kill the fish in the stream.  The drinking water killed fish downstream for approximately 1.5 stream miles.  This is pretty amazing since the spike in the flow due to the break was only just over two hours and the general area is very heavily influenced by inflowing spring and a substantial tributary.  The chlorine concentration must have been quite significant since a lot of dilution would have occurred.  The Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited who has adopted Valley Creek as their home water found out about this most recent disaster mid-morning that day and called Waterways Conservation Officer Robert Bonney of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to notify him of the spill.  Also notified was one of VFTU’s board members, Pete Hughes.  Upon arrival on site, they found the road closed to traffic and heavy equipment was opening up a very large excavation to facilitate repairs.  A pump was pumping out the excavation into a filter bag that seemed to be producing more mud than it was filtering.  The situation immediately downstream was a disaster with dead fish covered in mud, others clinging to the last vestiges of life bobbing at the surface trying to get oxygen into their chlorine destroyed gills.  As steward of the stream and the fish that live there it was a devastating sight. 

On Friday evening a call went out via social media to please help WCO Bonney count the number of dead trout and other fish killed.  This was going to be cold work as the temperature was to dip into single digits and be the coldest day in three years.  But at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday a group of about 12 intrepid souls got out of their warm vehicles and got their orders for which stream sections they should count dead fish.  It was pretty amazing to turn out this many folks in such short order on such a frigid day.  One report for the day covered a half mile stretch going downstream from the Mill Road bridge and they found 298 dead trout from 3 to 15 inches long and 717 other fish, such as minnows, dace and suckers.  Incredible numbers since all of these fish were wild, born in the stream.  What is also worry some is that the young-of-the-year trout were just starting to come up out gravel nesting areas.  Welcome to Valley Creek.

Over the years – this has been going on for decades – the Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited have tried to approach Aqua, the water main operator, to try to work with them to find solutions to these still occurring pipe failures.  We know that there are technologies out there that could help with this.  We know also that they have a large pipe line replacement program.  Aqua has told us that there are special response measures for the Valley Creek watershed.  And still drinking water main breaks are killing wild trout in Valley Creek.  On Saturday one of the dead trout measured 18 inches long.  What a waste for the gene pool and what a waste for lost angler opportunities.  Thanks, Aqua – Thanks a lot.