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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III - Pennslvania

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Narrows Bioengineering Project:
Cold-Water Fishery Restored Through Bioengineering

Brian Sneeringer
Adams County Conservation District
670 Old Harrisburg Road
Suite 201
Gettysburg, PA 17325
717-334-0636 (ext. 306)

Primary Sources of Pollution:

  • streambank erosion

Primary NPS Pollutants:

  • sediment

Project Activities:

  • streambank stabilization (root wads, rocks, planting)


  • 800 feet of streambank stabilized, deep pools, enhancement of trout populations

Conewago Creek, just north of Arendtsville in Adams County, Pennsylvania (commonly referred to as "The Narrows") is considered one of the most scenic stream corridors in the county. The creek is listed as a "high quality cold water fishery" and a wild trout stream by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and is actively stocked by several local private clubs.

A series of severe rain events in the summer and early fall of 1996 resulted in Adams County's receiving more than 90 inches of rain, nearly 4 feet more than the county average. As a result, two sections of Conewago Creek in The Narrows were heavily damaged, resulting in severe streambank erosion. The damage to the upper of the two sites was exacerbated by fallen trees, and the erosion on the lower section was the result of bedload deposit coming primarily from the upper site. In the past 2 years, it has been estimated that more than 8,000 tons of soil has fallen into the creek from these two sites. The eroding streambanks were filling up pools, degrading the conditions necessary for fish to thrive in the creek.

In 1998 the two sites on Conewago Creek were targeted for a streambank stabilization project totaling 800 linear feet. Because of aesthetics and cost, the standard riprap protection design was considered undesirable and bioengineering techniques were used instead.


The streambank at the McDannel site was severely eroded at the beginning of the project in February 1999.

Stabilizing eroding slope

Work began on the project in 1999 and involved the installation of native rock and root wads along the streambank. The existing site conditions included down or ready-to-fall trees, which were used as root wads to help stabilize the toe of the bank. The goal was for the root wads and rock to provide the large, heavy material necessary to stabilize the toe of the eroding slope and prevent further undercutting. The steep bank was then regraded to establish a more stable slope, using the gravel material removed from the adjacent streambank. This process "softened" this streambank, allowing the stream to "move" away from the newly stabilized banks.

The project also involved planting trees (donated by Adams County Trout Unlimited) and grass to improve the aesthetics of the site and to further aid in stabilization. Nine varieties of trees were planted; they were chosen based on the existing tree species around the sites.

Stabilization success

The project was officially completed on March 27, 1999. Natural succession is occurring at the site as many seedlings are growing quite well. Deep pools are beginning to form, particularly at the root wad structures. The root wads are providing excellent fish habitat, and dozens of trout can now frequently be seen swimming near the root wads in the deep pools that were created. Although the project has not yet been tested by extremely high water levels, small storm events have clearly not endangered the integrity of any of the root wad structures.


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Villanova's Storm Water Wetland Retrofit:
BMP Treats Runoff and Provides Research Site

Robert Traver
Associate Professor
Villanova University

Primary Sources of Pollution:

  • streambank erosion

Primary NPS Pollutants:

  • nutrients
  • metals
  • suspended solids

Project Activities:

  • conversion of storm water detention basin to storm water wetland


  • monitoring in progress

Along the border between Montgomery and Delaware Counties in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania lies a 41-acre urban watershed. The watershed consists of more than 16 acres of impervious surface, including Villanova University's parking lots, dormitories, office buildings, railroads, highways, and housing areas. An existing storm water detention basin on the university's property was targeted as an ideal site for a 319 retrofit project. This basin had the potential to treat the runoff that forms the headwaters of a watershed listed as medium priority on the state's degraded watershed list and to treat flows that affect a high-priority stream segment on the state's section 303(d) list.


An existing storm water detention basin was targeted for a 319 retrofit project.

Project goals

The purpose of the 319 project was to make a storm water wetland out of the existing detention basin, creating a water quality treatment facility. Water quality considerations were not part of the original design. The existing storm water detention basin was originally designed to reduce the increased peak flows coming from the university campus. Runoff entered the basin through sheet flow from a large parking lot and through two major pipes. The site had an existing 12-inch underdrain that quickly carried the water through the basin, directly connecting the parking lots to the headwaters of a small first-order stream. The site was designed to remain dry except during storm events, but there was always some flow through the underdrain, supporting the concept that the site was ideal for creating a storm water wetland.

One goal of the project was to prove that retrofitting could be accomplished easily on an existing structure without violating the original design concept. The retrofit of the basin therefore concentrated on retaining small storms while not violating the original storm water peak flow controls required by law.

The basin was redesigned by removing the underground pipes, moving earth to create a meandering flow path, adding a sediment forebay, and modifying the structure outlet. Wetland plantings were conducted; plants were selected for diversity and based on their ability to thrive at different inundation levels.

Low flows would now travel through the sediment forebay to give particles a chance to settle out. Flows would continue through a meandering wetland channel, maximizing contact with the plants, and finally through a deeper pool and the outlet structure. The flow path for larger storms would provide for the flow to go over a berm, preventing resuspension of the sediments collected in the structure, thus using the original design for peak flow management while avoiding damage to the low-flow components.


A meandering channel was designed to reduce flow velocity and allow particles to settle out.

Multiple benefits

Because it is located on the university's property, this storm water wetland is not only aiding in the reduction of pollutants for this headwater but also serving as a permanent research and demonstration site. To date, hundreds of visitors have toured the site, and the site is being incorporated into a demonstration "theme park" of multiple BMPs (including signage) on Villanova's property.

The wetland project was completed at the end of 2000, and the current plan is to wait a year for the wetlands to mature before starting to collect water quality samples. Hydrologic and hydraulic monitoring is already under way, and flowmeters and a rain gauge also have been installed to collect data. It is projected that total suspended solids will be reduced by 70 percent, total phosphorus by 40 percent, total nitrogen by 20 percent, and lead by 75 percent.

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