Muddy Water Discharged Into Valley Creek

Valley Forge Trout Unlimited Environmental Chair Pete Goodman observed muddy water being discharged into Valley Creek on December 17. Our stream data loggers indicate that this had begun around November 27. This could not have happened at a wosre time, since the brown trout in the stream spawn from the beginning of November into the middle of December, laying their eggs in the gravel of Valley Creek. The eggs incubate in the gravel for 4 to 10 weeks depending on the water temperature. Young trout stay in the gravel until the yolk sac is absorbed. Then they move out into the stream. This all happens as long as there is plenty of oxygen in the water. Silt as it precipitates out of the water fills and clogs the spaces between the gravel and suffocates those trout eggs or sack fry and all of the macro invertebrates that form the lower portion of the food chain in the stream.

Here is the letter he wrote in response:

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Ms. Gaye Lynn Criswell
Outreach Coordinator
Chester County Conservation District
674 Unionville Road, Suite 105
Kennett Square, PA 19348

Subject: Mud/Silt Discharge to Valley Creek

Dear Ms. Criswell,

I have been trying to write this letter for several days with several starts and interruptions only to cause me to change directions in the way I wish to address the issue.

As many of you know who are receiving this letter, I have been a not so quiet advocate for Valley Creek for at least 25 years. This most recent and continuing muddy water discharge into Valley Creek is just another of a long litany of harms that the Creek has suffered at the hands of those that live and work around it. In our Trout Unlimited chapter, we refer to this as death by a thousand cuts, although Valley Creek still survives in spite of us.

I have put together a Google Drive folder into which I have provided access to everyone receiving this letter. It contains photographs of the basins and the endwall discharge taken on December 20, 2023. I have also included some maps and drawing for clarity’s sake. I apologize for any duplications.

I initially reported the muddy water discharge on Monday, December 18th after walking the area with two other Valley Forge Trout Unlimited (VFTU) members on Sunday, December 17th prior to the forecast large rain event. The discharge was obvious and was coming from a concrete endwall near the western border of the East Whiteland Township Municipal Complex. It ran perhaps 25 yards or so before entering the branch of Valley Creek that flows through the Chester Valley Golf Course which was at the time running clear. In an effort to locate the source of the muddy water we walked up hill to the Chester Valley Trail and from there could see the stormwater basin work that was being done in conjunction with the construction activities for the New GVSD 5/6 Center on Swedesford Road near the corner of Church Road. The lowest basin (closest to the trail, Basin A as designated on a construction drawing) seemed to be the likely culprit and as we approached the outlet structure to the north west corner of the basin, we could hear water running. Although heavy rain was forecast, we were ahead of it and the other basins were essentially dry with no standing water. We assumed that where we heard the running water was where the water was coming from. Once I found the drawings of the drainage system online it pretty much confirmed our suspicions. That was the situation on Sunday afternoon (12/17) going into the big overnight storm.

On Monday December 18th I reported the muddy water discharge to Bob Bonney of the PA Fish & Boat Commission, ultimately speaking with Office Rae, East Whiteland Township Manager Steve Brown, Gaye Lynn Criswell of the Chester County Conservation District and the Environmental Emergency Incident hot line at Southeast Regional Office of the Department of Environmental Protection.

We know that the dirty water discharge was happening for some period of time before it was discovered thanks to the DIY Mayfly Data Loggers that VFTU has and maintains in the stream in Ecology Park. The data is publicly available here. I have included a graph of the monitored Turbidity from October 24 through December 24, 2023 in the Google folder I have included access to with this letter. It shows that the Turbidity in the stream was high and remained high from around November 27 until currently. We don’t know what changed then and unfortunately, we did not become aware of the problem until the middle of December. Our organization is all volunteer and we do not have the resources to monitor all the incidents that occur in the Valley Creek watershed. Regrettably, we end up being reactive as in this case rather than proactive.

Timing is always an issue. And certainly, timing is a huge problem in this instance. We discovered the dirty water discharge and verified it going into a substantial rain storm (I measured 3.24 inches for the event at my house 12/17 – 12/18.) It was useless to inspect on Monday (12/18) when I reported the problem. All local streams were high and dirty that day. By Tuesday they were returning to near normal flow and running clear. But not the water coming out of the endwall. On Wednesday the 20th the discharge from the endwall was half of the pipe and was the color of creamed coffee fouling the creek worse than what was observed going into the Sunday storm. We are less than a week before Christmas and everyone has a lot on their plate, so nothing is going to happen or change before Christmas and then after Christmas it is a short week and we head for another short week with the New Years Holiday. I am aware of the reality of the situation.

But indulge me for a minute. This is Valley Creek. It is an Exceptional Value stream as designated by the PA Department of Environmental Protection. It is a Class “A” Wild Brown Trout Fishery as designated by PA Fish & Boat Commission. This watershed no matter how degraded it is, is still an extraordinary ecosystem, a living breathing system of life. It has been referred to as a terrific resource and a commodity of value for the region. I hate those terms – resource and commodity! They degrade the life of Valley Creek into dollar bills. To those of us who treasure Valley Creek there is no price that can be put on its value.

I mentioned timing. If Great Valley School District had a Trout-in-the-Classroom program I might not have to tell you why the timing of this dirty water is so bad. (Pennsylvania Trout In the Classroom (PA TIC) is an interdisciplinary environmental education program in which students (grades K-12) learn about current and past impacts, management, and protection and enhancement opportunities of Pennsylvania’s watersheds and coldwater resources, while raising trout in the classroom.) VFTU sponsors and provides financial and other support for 16 such programs. The wild brown trout spawn and lay their eggs in the gravel of Valley Creek from the beginning of November into the middle of December. The eggs incubate in the gravel for 4 to 10 weeks depending on the water temperature. Young trout stay in the gravel until the yolk sac is absorbed. Then they move out into the stream. This all happens as long as there is plenty of oxygen in the water. Silt is the enemy. Silt as it precipitates out of the water fills and clogs the spaces between the gravel and suffocates the life living there. The life that lives there are those trout eggs or sack fry and all of the macroinvertebrates that form the lower portion of the food chain/web in the stream.

So, what I am saying is that we, collectively, have probably lost all of the young of the year wild brown trout in some undefined section of Valley Creek. I know where that section starts but I don’t know how far down stream it may extend. What we do know from another data logger located in Valley Creek Park downstream of Route 29 is that we can see the influence of the muddy water all the way down there. The end wall is about 0.54 miles upstream of the data logger in Ecology Park and the data logger in Valley Creek Park is another 1.62 miles further downstream from the Ecology Park logger. The sediment is being carried a long way fouling and killing miles of steam.

Let’s get this fixed. Please let me know what steps are being taken to rectify and resolve the dirty water discharge.

Respectfully,

W.E. “Pete” Goodman, III
Conservation Chairperson
Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited