Person in the Spotlight: David Robertson, Ph. D.

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David J. Robertson, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust

 

For the spring Watershed Alliance newsletter David J. Robertson, Ph. D., Executive Director of the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust (PERT), was kind enough to share his experience working at PERT, as well as explain some of PERT’s priorities and recent initiatives.

How did you get involved with the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust (PERT)?

In late 1987, I noticed an advertisement in the journal Science seeking a Land Manager at what was then the Pennypack Watershed Association.  At that time, I had been employed for six years at a Florida state agency conducting and sponsoring research on land reclamation following phosphate ore surface mining, but I had begun seeking a new position and wanted to move north; the job at Pennypack sounded tailor-made for my education and experience.  The Pennypack Trust hired me in May 1988 as manager of the 540-acre Pennypack Wilderness, the natural area that the Pennypack Watershed Association had been creating through land donations and purchases.  Eighteen months after I was hired, I was promoted to Executive Director, the position I have held since.

How does living on the Pennypack Preserve help guide your decisions with PERT?

Because I am office-bound most of the time, I don’t get out into the Pennypack Preserve as often as I would like during the normal workday.  Fortunately, because I live on the preserve grounds, I usually have an opportunity to take a walk in the evening and on weekends to review the status of the property.  In that way, I can keep up with ongoing projects.

My land stewardship staff typically is very task-oriented during their workdays, and they usually drive to the areas where they are working.  By walking, I have a chance to observe things that the stewardship staff might miss by driving to their tasks.

In addition, by walking after work hours—especially on weekday evenings—I often encounter many more visitors than I would if I were walking during the typical workday when there are fewer visitors.  As a result, I get to interact with visitors more frequently, and they realize that there is a representative of the Pennypack Trust in the preserve even after normal working hours.  Being present when there are more visitors also informs me about prohibited public use and gives me some insight about how the Trust might address human activities.  For example, on a recent Sunday afternoon when none of the stewardship staff was working, I came across a group of rock climbers who were scaling a quarry face for a climbing exercise.  This quarry is also used by Turkey Vultures for nesting and the Trust does not want the birds to be disturbed nor do we want to have to deal with accidents.  If I had not been walking, the climbers could have disturbed the birds, and “word” could have gotten out that the Pennypack Preserve is a great place to climb, which it is not.

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Meadow in Pennypack Preserve.

What are some of the challenges facing the Pennypack Preserve?

The three greatest challenges facing the ecological integrity of the Pennypack Preserve are (1) stormwater and flooding generated in the suburbanized upper sections of the watershed, (2) white-tailed deer present in numbers that prevent forest regeneration, and (3) invasive plants.  Four species of invasive plants—all vines—pose the greatest threat: porcelain-berry, Oriental bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle and the most recent invader, mile-a-minute weed.  These vines grow extremely fast in full sun, but less vigorously in deep shade.

Of course, there are a score of other non-native invasive plants in the preserve, but the vines are particularly pernicious.  They climb up into existing trees and pull down the trees with their weight and spread their leaves over the tops of the trees, which act as if the tree were covered with a blanket that deprives the supporting tree of sunlight and eventually kills it.

When the Trust began to tackle the invasive vines in earnest in 1990, the staff focused largely on old fields and meadows.  We mowed the fields, allowed them to begin to regrow, and then sprayed the tender new growth with herbicide.  Then, we reforested the sites to try to restore shade, which would suppress the rank growth of the vines.  Now that some of the original vine dominated fields have been reforested for 20 years, it is definitely obvious that our strategy of restoring shade to formerly open field shows promise for suppressing the growth of invasive vines.

The floodplain along Pennypack Creek presents a similar but even more challenging problem than the fields and meadows because the constant disturbance caused by repeated flooding makes reforestation difficult.  Trees planted on the floodplain frequently have been washed away by the floods that accompany hurricanes and tropical storms.  On the floodplains, the Trust has to treat large, established trees whose crowns are enveloped in vines every few years to prevent the vines from killing the trees.   Such repeated treatment is expensive, time consuming and labor intensive.

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Abundant deer populations in the Pennypack Preserve pose a serious threat to reforestation.

Tell us about the deer management research at PERT.

During the early 1980s, problems related to the expanding population of white-tailed deer in the natural area and surrounding lands became too obvious to ignore.  Visitors commonly observed groups of 40 or more deer, staff members documented damage to vegetation and a lack of forest regeneration, and the number of deer killed on roads adjacent to the natural area increased every year.   Deer management began in 1984 when the Trust’s board of directors interviewed several nationally prominent deer biologists seeking guidance for establishing a management program.  Controlled hunting began during the 1984-85 season and the continued efforts have resulted in a significant reduction of deer from 600 to 150.  While this reduction has been significant and dramatic, the herd is still 10 times larger than recommended (i.e., 8/sq. mi.) for good forest regeneration. Unfortunately, deer numbers have stabilized and hunters have been unable to reduce the numbers further because the deer move to neighboring residential properties during hunting season, making them inaccessible to the hunters.

In an effort to better understand the behavior of the deer herd and develop strategies to improve hunting efficiency and effectiveness, in 2007 the Trust entered into a cooperative relationship with investigators at Bryn Athyn College who had secured funding to conduct research that would benefit both organizations mutually.   The goal of the program is to correlate deer movement and habitat use with land management and restoration in the preserve.  In order to accomplish their goal, the Bryn Athyn College scientists captured deer and fitted them with collars that transmitted GPS coordinates every five minutes.  Since the study began, the scientists have fitted 38 deer with collars and tracked their movements for periods of up to four months each.   Their work, producing information about deer movement and human activity, weather, invasive plants, and even moonlight, has generated reports presented as oral and poster presentations at scientific conferences and several papers in peer-reviewed journals.

What is the impact of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI) and StreamKeepers program on PERT’s mission?

DRWI is a new initiative that has not yet had much of an effect on the Trust’s mission.  The Trust was founded as the Pennypack Watershed Association, which had as its primary goal improving water quality in Pennypack Creek.  The Association worked to achieve this goal through environmental education, land development review, and working collaboratively with municipalities—the same goal and much the same strategy advocated by DRWI for the larger Delaware watershed.  However, in the early 1990s, water quality in Pennypack Creek began to improve, impairment increasingly came from diffuse non-point sources that were very difficult to control, and the Trust’s natural area preserve continue to grow.  As a result, the Trust turned its attention to the Pennypack Preserve and focused on land protection and stewardship.  In a sense, the DRWI is a return to the organization’s original mission, although the Trust also has made a very significant commitment to maintaining and restoring the ecological integrity of the Pennypack Preserve natural area now.  As a result, the DRWI is an added program that the Trust is still evaluating how best to incorporate into our operations.

The citizen science StreamWatch volunteers who are monitoring water quality and serving as our “eyes and ears” on the creek are a growing group.  We have had a few StreamWatch volunteers working since 2014, but it is only recently that we have recruited large numbers of volunteers to help.  I’m hoping that the program will expand Pennypack’s visibility in the community, and that the Trust will be able to report on water quality trends to the municipalities in the watershed to encourage them to pass and enforce ordinances that will yield better water quality.  Because we have only recently begun to gear-up, it’s too early to determine how effective the StreamWatch program will be in the long run.

What is PERT’s relationship with the surrounding municipalities?

The Pennypack Preserve natural area includes land in four Montgomery County municipalities:  Abington Township, Bryn Athyn Borough, Lower Moreland Township, and Upper Moreland Township.  The preserve and its 11-mile trail system are open to the public without charge during daylight hours every day, so most municipalities look upon our protected lands as passive recreational complements to their active recreational facilities and amenities.  In general, the relationship between the municipalities and the Trust is one of cooperation; in fact, two of the municipalities provide financial support and appoint an elected municipal official to serve on the Trust’s board of directors.

Relations with the communities have not always been so cooperative or cordial, though.  One of the first projects that the organization undertook shortly after its founding in 1970 was an effort to establish a cluster of localized wastewater treatment systems that would treat small volumes of wastewater and then apply the effluent to upland areas.  The project’s goal was to avoid building an interceptor sewer running alongside Pennypack Creek and that would collect and then export all of the area’s wastewater directly to Philadelphia for treatment.  At the same time, the effluent from the small plants would recharge the depleted groundwater aquifer and would maintain undeveloped land where the effluent was to be applied.  The municipalities did not embrace this revolutionary concept and actively challenged the Trust for years, creating enmity that took decades to reverse.

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Pennypack Creek in Autumn

Tell us about your efforts to create a continuous greenway along Pennypack Creek.

When Montgomery County’s Green Fields/Green Towns open space program was providing support to the municipalities for open space protection, several of the communities worked cooperatively with the Trust to provide financial support to help the Trust purchase undeveloped natural land and add it to the preserve, thereby helping to expand the greenway at its northern end.

Beginning around 2005, the Pennypack Trust began to participate actively with Montgomery County, the Fairmount Park Commission in Philadelphia, and other non-profit organizations in the Pennypack Creek valley in a coalition called the Pennypack Greenway organized and funded by the GreenSpace Alliance, a project of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.  One of the goals of the coalition was to create a continuous greenway along the creek from its mouth at the Delaware River to the Pennypack Preserve natural area.  North, or upstream, of the Pennypack Preserve, suburban development has encroached to the banks of the creek almost all the way to the creek’s source in Horsham Township.  As a result, extending the physical greenway north of the Pennypack Preserve is impossible, although trail linkages as part of the Circuit will eventually allow users to travel from the mouth of the creek to its headwaters and beyond.

A protected continuous greenway now exists along the entire creek corridor between PERT and the Delaware River except for a short segment in Lower Moreland Township consisting of two parcels that remain in private ownership—the “missing link!”  The lands in these parcels are largely undeveloped because they lie almost completely in the Pennypack Creek floodplain.  Montgomery County is actively pursuing the acquisition and protection of these parcels as important natural areas and as buffers to its recently completed Pennypack Trail, which forms a common border to both parcels.

Article and photos by David Robertson.

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The College Settlement Wetland Project will Help Improve Water Quality in Pennypack Creek

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Wetland in early spring 2016. Stumps and logs added for habitat diversity.

The College Settlement Wetland Project is the culmination of a stormwater control measure originally envisioned by Temple University’s Center for Sustainable Communities in their Pennypack Creek Watershed Study. By creating a stormwater treatment wetland in a strategic location, up to 2 inches of stormwater runoff from 40 acres of upgradient development will be captured, infiltrated, and cleaned. Despite facing unexpected funding challenges the project has substantial educational opportunity and, when completed, will reduce erosion, increase base flow in the down gradient stream and begin making strides toward improving water quality in Pennypack Creek.

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Youth at College Settlement Camp. Photo credit: collegesettlement.org

Just north of Welsh Road and across the street from Purdy Lane in Horsham Township, the project is located on The College Settlement of Philadelphia’s Kuhn Day Camp/College Settlement Camp – a nonprofit organization that provides day and overnight camps, as well as environmental education programs to economically disadvantaged children in the Philadelphia region. The project will not only enhance educational opportunities associated with improving stormwater management but will also provide opportunities for youth to observe and learn about wetlands and wildlife.

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Wetland under construction.

Beyond its strategic location as an educational resource, the site was selected because roughly 40 acres upgradient of the project site are developed with early 1960s half-acre residential lots lacking stormwater runoff controls. Runoff from these lots and Welsh Road threatens Pennypack Creek, with erosion during large storm events and reduced base flow during dryer weather. Originally envisioned as a half-acre stormwater treatment wetland, site soil conditions permitted an expansion of the project to ensure adequate management of more than the first two inches of runoff. The current site includes a one-acre combined stormwater infiltration and treatment wetland of roughly equal proportions.

The project is also one of three projects selected by Villanova University for intensive hydrologic monitoring. Villanova is installing instruments to measure the inflow and outflow of water from the site, focusing on how stormwater runoff is slowed, infiltrated, and cleaned. The instrumentation includes a full weather station and a camera for remote visual monitoring during runoff events, which will be accessible via the internet. The goal is to show the incremental improvement in water quality for a stormwater control measure of this size in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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Newest resident: Chelydra serpentina, common snapping turtle. Also present are swallows, tadpoles, and water boatmen bugs.

The College Settlement Wetland Project was originally funded under a Round 1 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant under the William Penn Foundation’s Delaware River Watershed Initiative, with matching funds from Horsham and Upper Moreland Townships, Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust and the designers. However, unanticipated costs now require the project to seek gap funding to purchase more shrubs and trees and install a fence. The shortfall occurred because of more than anticipated Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Projection permit costs, along with the need for fencing to protect newly planted vegetation from the rampant deer population in the area. Hopefully, some additional National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant funds will be made available to cover these additional costs. In the interim, the site has been stabilized but has not been planted out to full capacity.

 

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Wetland before seeds germinated.

The team that designed and implemented the College Settlement Wetland Project include Derron L. LaBrake, a Professional Wetland Scientist and Certified Ecological Designer from Wetlands & Ecology, Inc. and M. Richard Nalbandian, a Professional Geologist from MRNenvironmental.Inc. They worked with the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust (PERT) to design, permit and construct the project.

 

 

Based on interview with Derron LaBrake, PWS, CED. Photos credited to Derron LaBrake.

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Regional Watershed Group Workshops Provide Capacity Building & Technical Resources

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Southeastern Regional Watershed Groups Gather for at One of Six Workshops Held in Each PA DEP Region.

 

Over the past month, Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) had the opportunity to meet representatives from over 60 watershed organizations through a series of regional watershed group workshops held across the state.  This effort, funded through a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) Growing Greener grant, is intended to identify organizational capacity needs of local watershed groups and provide opportunities for shared learning and networking as well as targeted technical assistance. Through the regional gatherings we heard from a wide-range of participants, including staff and board members of watershed and conservation groups, county conservation district watershed specialists, PA DEP and PA DCNR specialists, and regional and national non-profit environmental organizations.

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Melinda Hughes, President of Nature Abounds, Addresses the SE PA Group.

Participants learned about member and volunteer recruitment opportunities from leaders such as Mary-Ellen Olcese and Paco Ollervides from the River Network, Melinda Hughes from Nature Abounds, Marla Papernick from PEC, and Erin Frederick and Rebecca Kennedy representing the Pennsylvania Master Watershed Steward program. New water resource monitoring and modeling tools were summarized by experts from the Stroud Water Research Center including John Jackson and Matt Ehrhart. Debra Frawley and PEC staff members Frank Maguire and Paul Racette introduced participants to the Water Resource PA on-line mapping tool being developed by PEC.  An update on the resources available via the Pennsylvania Organization of Watersheds and River (POWR) was provided by PEC Vice President Janet Sweeny. Diane Wilson from PA DEP and Kelly Rossiter from PA DCNR shared watershed program funding opportunities with the groups as well.

The workshop for the SE watershed groups was held on April 14 at the Upper Merion Township building.  Attendees included representatives from 20 watershed and conservation organizations, municipal environmental advisory councils, local universities and research centers, and each of the county conservation district watershed specialists.  In keeping with our other regional workshops, both organizational capacity and technical resources information was shared.

Travelling around the state and hearing from the many watershed organizations about their unique challenges and concerns was valuable in numerous ways. PEC gained a better understanding of shared concerns about organizational sustainability, member recruitment and fundraising. We also heard about the need for training in using on-line GIS tools and stream quality monitoring program development. We learned that watershed groups need access to skilled volunteers and water quality monitoring equipment and are interested in data sharing forums.  Our next steps include scheduling the Northwest Region watershed workshop and then planning a state-wide watershed conference for the spring of 2017.

We hope to continue these regional meetings and look forward to connecting groups with each other and to the network of organizations currently providing capacity building training, resources, and tools. Our goal is to increase the ability of the hundreds of watershed organizations in Pennsylvania to continue their great work well into the future.

Authored by Susan Myerov; for more information please contact Susan at (smyerov@pecpa.org).

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Municipal Stormwater Fee Legislation Under Consideration

Elevated stormwater runoff caused by buildings and pavement is a major contributor to water quality impairments and flooding. Municipalities with their authority over land development are primary stakeholders in efforts to improve water quality and reduce flooding through stormwater management improvements. Because of the high cost of addressing adverse impacts from past development, and rising cost to maintain existing and new stormwater management infrastructure, municipalities are considering new ways to finance their stormwater programs.

Municipalities in the past have relied on grants, loans and general funds to finance their stormwater programs. More recently, cities, townships and boroughs are considering dedicated and stable sources of funding for stormwater programs including the formation of municipal stormwater authorities and the establishment of stormwater fees. Unlike general tax revenue, revenue generated via stormwater fees is dedicated solely to stormwater management programs and projects.

State elected officials have and continue to develop legislation that clarifies a municipality’s ability to create dedicated stormwater funding programs. Municipalities have long formed local and regional authorities that provide drinking water or treat sewage. These authorities are separate governmental units that can assess fees in order to develop and deliver their services to the public. Many municipalities were reluctant to consider forming stormwater authorities because the word “stormwater” was not explicitly stated in the Municipal Authorities Act (MMA).

That changed in July of 2013 when Senate Bill 351, introduced by Senator Ted Erikson, was signed into law by Governor Corbett as Act 68. Act 68 essentially added “Storm water Planning, Management, and Implementation” as an activity that a municipal authority can take on.  In 2014, the MAA was again amended to specifically authorize the establishment of stormwater fees.

But that is not the end of the legislative story; although Act 68 enables stormwater authorities, it did not address the question of whether a municipality or borough can directly assess its own stormwater fee without first forming a separate authority. Some municipalities may be reluctant to enter into or form a new authority, which they view as independent and not under their control. Municipalities may also prefer what they view as the simpler route of assessing their own stormwater fee without having to create or enter into an entirely new organization.

To make this issue more complicated, townships in Pennsylvania fall under several designations depending on their population density. As density increases, second class townships can become first class townships if they choose. Any township, regardless of class, can also choose to be “home rule”, whereupon it does not follow Pennsylvania Township Code except where limited by state law. Boroughs are another class of municipality, an urbanized area smaller than a city. Boroughs can also choose to be “home rule”.

Why the emphasis on “home rule” in this discussion of stormwater fees? Home rule townships and boroughs do not see any legal issue associated with assessing their own stormwater fee. Some, like Radnor Township, being home rule, proceeded down the path in 2013 of assessing their own stormwater fee without forming an authority.

Boroughs and Class 1 and 2 townships interested in assessing their own stormwater fee may get clarification on this issue soon, as three separate bills were introduced by house legislators in 2015.

House Bill 1325 introduced on June 12, 2015, would enable second class townships to assess fees based on the characteristics of the subject property, allowing the funds to be used for the installation and maintenance of stormwater best management practices. The bill includes a provision enabling the board of supervisors to enact and enforce ordinances that govern the installation and maintenance of stormwater facilities.

House Bill 1394 introduced on June 24, 2015, would enable boroughs to enact and enforce ordinances that govern the installation and maintenance of stormwater facilities. The bill is less direct in its discussion of a borough stormwater fee program. It states that a borough may pay for work or activity authorized under the ordinance from “money of the borough available for that purpose”.

House Bill 1661 introduce on October 23, 2015 would enable first class townships to do a number of things including:

  • Install facilities to manage surface water runoff.
  • Acquire a facility by purchase, deed of dedication or eminent domain proceedings (from property owners in township) for the management of surface water runoff.
  • Install projects consistent with Act 167 Stormwater Management Act and Watershed Storwmater Management Plans approved by PA DEP. If no such plans exist, the bill requires that the stormwater project plans be submitted to the County Conservation District for review.
  • Enact and enforce ordinances that govern the installation and maintenance of stormwater facilities.
  • Assess a stormwater fee based on the characteristics of subject property, allowing the funds to be used for the installation or maintenance of stormwater facilities.

This pending legislation should help clarify a municipality’s ability to create stable and long term sources of funding to address stormwater issues. Municipalities can collaborate and consider the formation of stormwater authorities that can more efficiently address tributary and watershed scale stormwater impacts. They can also work individually through stormwater fee programs. Authority and fee programs are a powerful finance tool that can help municipalities fund the installation and maintenance of stormwater best management projects, leading to clean water, reduced flooding, and healthier streams. We will provide updates on the status of the three pending bills described above.

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Temple and Villanova Monitoring Programs Seek to Document Watershed Health Improvements

 

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Temple’s Emily Arnold sampling sediment in Tookany Creek.

Temple and Villanova Monitoring Programs Seek to Document Watershed Health Improvements

A key objective of the William Penn Foundation’s Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI) is to document improvements in watershed health resulting from conservation, stream restoration, and stormwater management projects. Temple and Villanova Universities support this effort in the DRWI Upstream Suburban Philadelphia Cluster through the deployment of a suite of monitoring and modeling initiatives.

Temple and Villanova Universities are developing and deploying rigorous stormwater monitoring programs in upstream suburban Philadelphia watersheds. Their overall goal is to measure the effectiveness of stormwater and stream restoration projects in reducing water pollution and restoring watershed health. The two Universities are also using monitoring data to support hydraulic and hydrological modeling that predicts the effects of stormwater projects and identifies the best sites for future projects.

Much of this effort is focused on prioritized headwaters and sub-basins where partners seek to install clusters of restoration projects. By concentrating restoration efforts, DWRI stakeholders look to detect reductions in runoff volumes and improvements in water quality at the project and sub-basin scale. The two Universities are teamed up to develop stormwater monitoring plans for up to 6 headwater project areas, enabling them to compare and contrast different stream reaches that have various levels of project implementation. Before- and after-project samples are being paired upstream and downstream of project sites, to evaluate the success of projects and/or project clusters in “moving the needle” towards healthier watershed.

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Ultrasonic flow meter installed at Narberth measuring flow at headwaters of East Branch of the Indian Creek.

Temple and Villanova monitoring networks, including continuous data loggers, collect data such as temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. Nutrient monitoring has been conducted on a limited basis using a nitrate logger, and there are plans to add additional nutrient loggers. In addition to their own monitoring, the Universities coordinate with and support watershed groups with water quality sampling and citizen “StreamKeepers” with visual stream assessments. This includes developing a crowd sourcing smart phone app (currently being beta tested) that when launched will enable Streamkeepers to document their observations creek side.

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Villanova’s Sarah Rife standing next to flow meter communication box at Abington Friends School

Examples of project monitoring include Villanova University’s design, in conjunction with the project consultants, of instrumentation to monitor inflows, outflows, infiltration, and water quality changes at stormwater projects being installed at Abington Friends School (on Jenkintown Creek headwater to Tookany Creek) and College Settlement (on headwater to Pennypack Creek). This instrumentation is in the process of being installed with careful coordination with the project designers and contractors.

Pre-construction monitoring at an additional project site in Narberth Park has also been on-going for nearly a year. Villanova is working with the designers to ensure that the monitoring instrumentation is compatible with the rain garden and bioswales slated for design and construction at the Narberth Library and adjacent Windsor Avenue Green Street.

Villanova’s effort includes the installation of weather stations at project sites to collect rain fall and other meteorological data that supports their monitoring and modeling efforts. See the below Villanova University link for information on DRWI and other stormwater control measure research. http://www1.villanova.edu/villanova/engineering/research/centers/vcase/vusp1/research/DRWI.html

The high quality “Tier 1” data sets collected by the Universities are being supplemented with the complimentary watershed organization and StreamKeeper data. The Academy of Natural Sciences and Stroud Water Research Center are also collecting baseline data including water quality, habitat assessment, and flora and fauna such as macroinvertebrates, algae, and fish. Collectively these monitoring data are being used for assessment, outreach and project implementation efforts that contribute to clean water, restored fish and wildlife habitat, and overall healthier watersheds.

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Weather station on the roof of Abington Friends School

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Person in the Spotlight: Andrea L. Welker, PhD, PE

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For the winter newsletter, the Watershed Alliance of Southeast Pennsylvania had the opportunity to sit down and hear about Dr. Welker’s stormwater monitoring work. Andrea L. Welker, PhD, PE is a Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Villanova University. She is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Pennsylvania. Dr. Welker teaches undergraduate soil mechanics, soil mechanics laboratory, geology, foundation design, and capstone design and graduate level courses in geoenvironmental engineering and geosynthetics. She is the Associate Director of the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership. Most of Dr. Welker’s research focuses on studying the geotechnical aspects of stormwater control measures (SCMs) including rain gardens and permeable pavements. Dr. Welker is currently part of a multi-state, multi-year effort supported by the William Penn Foundation to ensure plentiful, clean water in the Delaware River Watershed.

What led you to start researching/ implementing sustainable stormwater management practices?
It started as a conversation by the water cooler with Rob Traver about how to obtain pore water samples in the unsaturated zone of our oldest rain garden.

How has the field of engineering evolved to include sustainable stormwater management practices?
A decade ago we were in the process of proving that these practices work, now we are trying to improve our understanding how they work to improve design.

What role does Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership play into the greater William Penn Foundation’s initiative on improving water quality?
We are extremely fortunate to be part of the Upstream Suburban Philadelphia. This particular cluster is unique amongst the other DRWI clusters as we have a strong focus on restoration and monitoring. This varied group works well together to achieve the goal of improving water quality in the region. Specifically, Villanova will be monitoring stormwater control measures (SCMs) and we are working with Temple to model these SCMs and the watersheds. In addition, we have been working with Temple, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Lower Merion Conservancy, and Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association to develop outreach and education programs.

How has research and data transformed the way people manage stormwater?
I believe it has allowed us to move from proving these control measures work to figuring out how to improve designs. We need to be careful, however, that we don’t over complicate things and scare people away. The key thing is that it is all about restoring the hydrologic cycle and you can talk about that to anyone!
How do you coordinate with municipal governments and non-profits to implement stormwater management?
William Penn’s DRWI really helped to provide a forum for this type of coordination to occur. For example, the VUSP worked very closely with the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership to implement and instrument a rain garden at Abington Friends School. In addition, the Municipal Workshop that we just held in October on Villanova’s campus was planned by PEC (specifically Paul Racette and Susan Myerov), Jan Bowers of Chester County, and Villanova’s Urban Stormwater Partnership. This event brought more than a hundred municipal officials together to learn about how to implement and pay for stormwater management.

Through your research, how has Villanova’s curriculum changed to include sustainable stormwater management practices?
We are so fortunate to have so many highly instrumented stormwater control measures on campus. The professors in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department incorporate these into our classes as much as possible. For example, freshman analyzed phosphorous concentrations in our oldest rain garden, sophomores considered how stormwater controls could be implemented as part of a redevelopment project on Villanova’s campus, juniors tour our demonstration park, and seniors design stormwater controls from the bottom up. Our graduate students see fresh data from our research sites in many classes as well. It’s everywhere!

What advice would you give to people hoping to pursue a similar career in stormwater research and monitoring?
We are getting much smarter about monitoring – we are now using it to improve designs and to let us know when maintenance needs to occur. There are so many unanswered questions and there is a lot of work to be done. I think we have to remember that there is room for many levels of sophistication in stormwater management and that more complicated isn’t always better.

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Upstream Suburban Philadelphia Cluster Challenges + Opportunties Tour

The August 6th Upstream Suburban Philadelphia Cluster Challenges + Opportunities Tour was attended by a cross-section of people concerned about stormwater management and watershed health.  Representatives from watershed groups, municipalities, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, institutions and more participated, either riding the bus or visiting one of the five tour stops.  Participants toured existing and proposed stormwater management projects and discussed what is needed to scale up restoration projects to address broader watershed health issues and concerns.

Lillian Mittleman, a resident of Haverford Township and the Cobbs Creek Watershed, had a rain garden installed in her front yard as part of the Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) and Eastern Delaware County Stormwater Collaborative rain garden campaign. This campaign and others in the region seek to establish rain gardens as a normative practice for both private and public landowners. Ms. Mittleman’s rain garden manages runoff from her house and yard, and serves as an educational point of interest for areas residents and students of adjacent Haverford High School. Ms. Mittleman and other participants in the rain garden campaign are also available to educate, advise, and support other community member interested in constructing rain gardens.

Ms. Mittleman and PRC representatives describe rain garden campaign.

Ms. Mittleman and PRC representatives describe rain garden campaign.

Jim Blanch, Engineer for Whitpain Township in the Wissahickon Watershed, has overseen several basin retrofit projects for the Township. The tour visited the Village Circle basin retrofit project scheduled for construction fall of 2015. This basin naturalization project will slow and infiltrate runoff from the adjacent Village Circle sub-division. A major goal of the project is to reduce erosion occurring just downstream of the basin along a headwater tributary. A key discussion point during this site visit was how to ramp up basin retrofit strategies to a watershed scale. Such strategies could deploy a range of retrofit techniques from lower cost naturalization and outlet structure modification practices that slow and infiltrate runoff, to higher cost grading project that increase the volume of stormwater managed.

Jim Blanch (in background) explains Village Circle basin retrofit project.

Jim Blanch (in background) explains Village Circle basin retrofit project.

Laura Toran, Temple University, details monitoring at Village Circle basin.

Laura Toran, Temple University, details monitoring at Village Circle basin.

Laura Toran, Professor at Temple University, presented on water quality monitoring initiated at two restoration projects, the Village Circle basin retrofit and the Abington Friends School stream restoration. Laura displayed various instruments that are being deployed to monitor before and after water quality conditions at restoration projects. For example, data loggers have been installed to collect records on pollutant concentrations such as nitrate and physical conditions such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. Both Temple and Villanova Universities are conducting monitoring and modeling to measure and predict the impact of stormwater control measure projects at the project, sub-basin and watershed scale.

Mike LeFevre (Abington Township Manager) and Paul Leonard (Upper Dublin Township Manager) and members of their staff joined the tour at Roslyn Elementary School on Sandy Run, Wissahickon Watershed. The Managers discussed complexities associated with Sandy Run stormwater management and stream restoration issues. This major tributary originates in Abington and flows into Upper Dublin where it passes Fort Washington Industrial Park before discharging to the main-stem of Wissahickon Creek. Both Townships have sought to reduce Sandy Run flooding issues, and both now are addressing regulatory requirements to reduce sediment and nutrient loadings (total maximum daily loads) to the creek. The tour visited channelized portions of Sandy Run and considered existing and proposed stormwater management and stream restoration projects.

Tour group visits channelized section of Sandy Run, Abington Township

Tour group visits channelized section of Sandy Run, Abington Township

Julie Slavet and Rosanne Mistretta show Jenkintown Creek headwaters buffer at Abington Friends School.

Julie Slavet and Rosanne Mistretta show Jenkintown Creek headwaters buffer at Abington Friends School.

Rosanne Mistretta, a teacher at the Abington Friends School, welcomed the tour to the Jenkintown Creek headwaters stream restoration project, in the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed. This two phase project will include riparian buffers, two rain gardens, a bioretention area, a meadow, and stream bank stabilization. Ms. Mistretta is incorporating aspects of the restoration work into the Friends’ School science curriculum both inside and outside the classroom. Broader community watershed education events are also being organized, including inviting elected officials so they can better understand their constituent’s stormwater management and healthy watershed needs. As this headwaters project is implemented work is already underway to identify close-by downstream projects so that sub-basin and broader watershed scale water quality and aquatic life improvements can be secured.

For full details on the tour at Upstream Suburban Philadelphia Cluster Partners Host Watershed Tour

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