Old-Time Sentiment and Sediment in Lancaster County

Legacy Sediments accumulated to 5 meters tall

Legacy Sediments accumulated to 5 meters tall

By Bonnie Turner-Lomax

I’d encourage you to take a trip through Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County to get a sense for the area’s rich culture and old-world charm, its picturesque farms, covered bridges and quaint towns and villages.  And keep an eye out for the occasional horse and buggy.

One thing you won’t be able to spot, though, is another part of the county’s past – an environmental legacy that has played out for centuries beneath area waters.

During the late 17th through 19th centuries, it was common for communities to build dams on nearby streams to provide water power for various mills that served the communities. Sediment has been accumulating behind these now defunct but still in-place dams since they were first constructed.  Centuries of sediment accumulation (referred to as legacy sediments) have resulted in numerous environmental impacts, including:

  • changes in stream structure,
  • unnaturally high stream bank walls,
  • loss of wetlands,
  • excess sediment scouring during storms,
  • and increased loading of nutrients and sediments downstream.

This historic pollution has present impacts, and affects Lancaster county as well as other communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Recently, more than 140 environmental professionals converged at Franklin & Marshall College in the heart of Lancaster County for a workshop to deal with this age-old issue.

The group, including federal, state, and local representatives, academics and environmental consultants, held discussions, considered challenges and opportunities, and did field visits to the Big Spruce Run and Banta restoration projects to highlight potential benefits of the sediment fix to water quality and wetlands.

By meeting and establishing a communication forum to share data and information, the group is taking steps to create an environmental legacy of pristine streams, waterways, and wetlands.

Find out more about legacy sediment removal and stream restoration.

About the Author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax came to EPA Region’s mid-Atlantic Region in 1987 and has held several positions throughout the Region.  She is currently the Communications Coordinator for the Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division.

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