Scott Major loves heading out to fish where the Cacoosing and Tulpehocken creeks converge in Spring Township.
The cold, clear rocky waters of the Cacoosing are a prime trout-catching spot that he has enjoyed for 30 years, but he felt something was amiss when large amounts of sediment began fouling the waters in early July.
Major and other anglers had heard the Papermill Dam on the Cacoosing, which was located roughly across Papermill Road from the Body Zone Sports and Wellness Complex, was going to be removed and that some sediment could be an issue.
“We thought they were just going to breach the dam, basically bust a hole in the dam and let the water free flow down through, which is what they do to a lot of streams out west for salmon fishing,” Major said. “But what they’re doing is deconstructing the dam. They breached the dam, now they’re tearing the dam apart. Which has created tons — and I mean metric tons — of sediment.”
He said all the natural rocks that were covered in moss and home to insects are now covered by a foot of sediment from where the dam was removed to where the Cacoosing flows into Tulpehocken Creek about 200 yards away, and the sandy covering continues about 100 yards down the Tully.
“I’m not an engineer, I’m not an environmental biologist or anything, but this does not look like the way it should be done,” Major said.
Jessie Thomas-Blate, director of river restoration and most endangered rivers manager for American Rivers, is overseeing the project and said the sediment was expected.
“This project has been in development for about 12 years, so it’s been a long time,” she said. “And we have been working with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the DEP, soil and water conservation district, Trout Unlimited and Berks Nature.
“A lot of dam removals are planned this way where there is a passive sediment release that is expected and planned as part of the dam removal project. The amount of sediment that was behind the dam was known. This is something we expect in situations like this.”
American Rivers was founded in 1973 and has headquarters in Washington, D.C. Its goals are clean water and healthy rivers, according to its website, americanrivers.org.
In 2018, American Rivers received a $275,441 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for the Papermill Dam removal. The money was from fines levied against Sunoco for violations related to the Mariner East 2 pipeline project. Spring Township also received a $440,000 grant for a stormwater runoff management project in the Cacoosing Creek watershed that same year.
In April of this year Berks Nature received a $6,476 grant from Pennsylvania American Water to restore the riparian zone along Cacoosing Creek by planting native trees and plants related to the Papermill Dam removal and to start a youth fishing program.
Thomas-Blate explained there is no way to remove a dam and not have some sediment be released.
“In this particular case, we were expecting to have sediment released and go downstream,” she said. “That’s a natural process for rivers. Rivers move sediment, especially in Pennsylvania and in the mid-Atlantic region of the country, there is a lot of sediment moving naturally through these systems.”
As storms create heavy water flows in the streams, that sediment will continue to disperse downstream to the Schuylkill River.
“We don’t expect it to have major long-term impacts on any of the fish habitat downstream,” Thomas-Blate said. “We’re well aware of the love that the community has for the area down there.”
Level of concern
Major, 57, makes a trip up to his favorite fishing spots along the Tully at least once or twice a week from his Union Township home.
“And sometimes even more when we’re hot and heavy into our fishing,” he said.
With all the preparation done to prevent erosion by using tarps and log-like rolls at construction sites on dry land, Major said he was surprised more preventative measures were not taken before the dam was removed.
“If that much concern is put on dry land, you would think it would be even more so if you’re dealing directly inside a creek,” Major said. “It doesn’t look like there is any concern for that. The creek is destroyed from the dam down. It is destroyed.”
He said a friend and fellow angler called the Fish and Boat Commission about the situation. The conservation officer he spoke to initially seemed concerned but then called back to say there were a lot of eyes on the project and not to be worried.
“I would anticipate that it would eventually work its way through the system during high-water events and stormwater runoff events. That material should work its way through the system,” said Dean Druckenmiller, district manager for Berks County Conservation District, which has been involved in restoring other parts of the 11-mile-long Cacoosing. “It may take a little while to do that until we get some high-water events.
“I think there are going to be a lot of long-term benefits even though we’re having some short-term impacts right now.”
The Tulpehocken Chapter Trout Unlimited did not reply to an email seeking comment.
Thomas-Blate said the original design plan did not call for removing sediment off site.
“However, we are having conversations right now, as part of this sort of adaptive management of the project, should we be talking about moving some of that sediment?” she said.
One major concern is a natural gas pipeline that is at the top of the project site and providing protection for it, Thomas-Blate said. The design plan calls for a rock riffle to be installed to keep the gas line buried upstream.
“We need to see a little bit how that area upstream of the impoundment adjusts first and then figure out do we need to move some sediment around in order to be able to put in this rock riffle to protect that natural gas line,” she said. “Does it make sense to move some of the downstream sediment further out of the river channel? We’ll be adaptively managing this throughout the fall and potentially into next year as another phase of the project.”
American Rivers’ permit from the state requires it to be out of the water from Oct. 1 until June. It would need to request special permission to continue to do work in the water.
“Our plan is to be out of the river by Oct. 1 and then next spring to come and revisit the site and see how things are adjusting and if we feel like additional work needs to be done, figuring out what that is and probably going back and implementing that next summer,” Thomas-Blate said.
“We are not really monitoring it from a regulatory perspective,” Druckenmiller said. “We’re kind of monitoring from an interest perspective because I think the long-term benefits here will definitely help improve the stream, the Cacoosing Creek itself, and eventually it will also help the Tulpehocken Creek fishery as well.”
Druckenmiller said the anglers’ concerns are legitimate.
“I understand where they’re coming from,” he said. “I’m an angler, a fly fisherman myself, so I totally understand their concerns and agree with their concerns and what I’m hoping for, is just like I said before, is short-term impacts for long-term benefits.
“I do want to say it’s nice to see anglers and fishermen that are really concerned about this issue. It’s nice to see that interest is out there.”
Source: Berkshire mont