Pike County Streams: Our Valuable Natural Treasure

Watershed specialist Rachel Posavetz, showing off a macroinvertebrate in a Pike County Stream

By Rachel Posavetz, PCCD’s Watershed Specialist

Pike County has an abundance of unique waterways, more than 1,800 miles of streams, nearly ninety lakes and dozens of ponds. These resources contribute to our quality of life, the natural landscape, and the tourism in the area.

The clean lakes and fishing streams in Pike County contribute to the tourism and outdoor recreation in the Pocono Mountain region, helping to draw the almost 30 million visitors annually. According to a 2018 study by Tourism Economics, over $3.3 billion is spent on travel in the Pocono Mountains region annually. Our High Quality (HQ) and Exceptional Value (EV) streams and healthy water bodies are significant sources of economic value.

To protect the outstanding water in Pennsylvania, the PA Chapter 93 water quality standards were enacted. This established the special protection designations of “High Quality” and “Exceptional Value” to provide sufficient protection to Pennsylvania’s highest quality waters.

High Quality (HQ) and Exceptional Value (EV) designations are reserved for the cleanest waters in all of Pennsylvania, which are considered important natural resources to be properly protected and maintained. Most impressively, all the surface waters in Pike County, excluding the Delaware River, are designated as either HQ or EV.

What Qualifies Surface Waters as High Quality or Exceptional Value?

                High Quality (HQ) waters must meet specific chemistry or biological conditions, if not both. The chemistry standards must include at least one year of water quality data meeting scientific criteria established within Chapter 93 of the PA Code, measuring specific parameters such as dissolved oxygen, temperature and pH (acidity & alkalinity) among others.

Dragon fly nymph under water

Dragonfly Nymph, a type of a macroinvertebrate, in a stream in Pike County

For biological conditions to be met, a high quality aquatic community must be supported in that water body. As determined by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment protocols, the benthic macroinvertebrate (aquatic insects, shellfish, etc.) community must receive a health rating of at least 83%. Lastly, “Class A wild trout streams” as designated by PA Fish and Boat Commission (PAFBC), will qualify a surface water as HQ.

Exceptional Value (EV) Waters are those that will firstly meet HQ standards, and one of several other factors that qualify the surface water for additional protection. These other qualifying conditions include:

  • the surface water being located in a refuge or protection area or a state or federal special designation area
  • the surface water being designated as a PAFBC “wilderness trout stream,” or designated as “exceptional recreational significance”
  • if the surface water scores 92% or higher on the EPA bioassessment protocol for benthic macroinvertebrate community (aquatic insects, shellfish, etc.)

A surface water designated as having an “exceptional ecological significance” is considered EV without requiring any other standards to be met.

What does all of this mean to you?

HQ and EV designations can improve your local area by increasing the chance of receiving funding for upgraded wastewater treatment facilities and increasing  funding available  through PA Dirt, Gravel, and Low Volume Road Maintenance Program grants. EV designation prevents radioactive and hazardous waste disposal facilities from being located in your watershed. These designations help to ensure Pike County will have clean water for many years to come.

Having these designations on Pike County’s surface waters DOES NOT impact activities existing prior to the designations being placed, because they have been grandfathered in. Municipal governments are NOT liable for cleaning up streams nor required to change local ordinances. Many common activities are not impacted by these designations, most road maintenance projects, most farm practices, and on-lot sewage systems are NOT affected.

To ensure protection of HQ and EV surface waters, the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires specific authorization for certain types of disturbance activities in or near these areas. The Conservation District is the local clearinghouse for information and technical assistance related to projects in or around HQ and EV waterways. Contact the District for more information before starting your project.