Brook Trout found for the first time. Photo by Rachel Kester.
Before: Acid Mine Drainage at the Dimeling Discharge. Photo courtesy of CCCD.
After: Water flows through a treatment system and settling pond

Brook Trout Stream Comes Back To Life

Originally published October 2, 2015 in Trout Unlimited's Blog, reprinted with permission from the author.
By Rachel Kester

On a recent September day, I spent the afternoon out on a tiny, unnamed tributary to Clearfield Creek in central Pennsylvania with Clearfield County Watershed Specialist, Kelly Williams. Kelly and I can often be found together traversing Clearfield County streams, pulling water samples and planning for abandoned mine drainage restoration projects.

With over 50 percent of AMD-impaired waters in the West Branch Susquehanna River basin found in Clearfield County, there is no shortage of orange, lifeless streams to assess and restore. On this day, however, we were on a different kind of mission: We were on the hunt for native brookies.

Armed with a backpack electroshocking unit, our hopes were high, but we were trying to remain realistic. You see, only two years ago this stream, too, was nearly lifeless due to a high iron discharge, known as the Dimeling Discharge, emanating from the abandoned Victoria underground coal mine.

With funding from the state’s bond forfeiture program and a Department of Environmental Protection Growing Greener grant, Kelly and the Conservation District spearheaded a project to construct a passive treatment system to treat the mine discharge and restore water quality to the unnamed tributary.

Read about SGP's tour of the treatment site in October 2014.

The system went online in September 2013, but a biological survey completed downstream of the treatment system in 2014 by TU showed that bug life in the stream left much to be desired and no fish were yet present even though water quality was greatly improved. Needless to say, we weren’t expecting much on our follow-up visit. 

I donned the electroshocking unit and my net. Kelly followed close behind, helping me navigate the narrow stream corridor and fight through the brush, as we both watched the water intently, waiting for a fish to flip. The first couple of pools yielded nothing, but then we saw the white of an underbelly and the telltale parr marks of a young trout. We had netted our first brook trout! We nearly danced with joy!

While we ended up netting only seven brook trout that day, most of them were young of the year, and we couldn’t have been more ecstatic to see that this once-barren stream is now coming back to life.

Subsequent surveys are planned to monitor the ongoing recovery of this stream, but one thing I learned that day is to always be hopeful. Improving water quality will lead to improved fishing. Or as Kelly and I like to say, with a little inspiration from the movie Field of Dreams – If you treat it, they will come.

Rachel Kester is a Project Coordinator for Trout Unlimited's Eastern Abandoned Mines Program. She can be contacted at: rkester@tu.org