The coldwater streams of Central Appalachia are still struggling from century-old impacts of the energy industry. Streams buried by mountain top removal and rivers filled with abandoned mine drainage are not uncommon. Today, a new form of energy development – unconventional shale gas – is being aggressively pursued. In order to establish baseline conditions and document impacts of this relatively new industry, TU volunteers are committing their time to collect water quality data and conduct visual reconnaissance in coldwater watersheds that are most vulnerable to the impacts of shale gas development.
When choosing sampling sites, volunteers must take into account varied information including the existence of wild and native trout, current and ongoing shale gas development and projections for future development. This information is not only hard to come by but is also difficult to synthesize in a useful and meaningful way. Luckily for volunteers concerned with shale gas development, with the Central Appalachia Conservation Success Index (CSI), the TU science team has done just that.
Taking into account the latest data on brook trout populations, current shale gas development and projections for future shale gas development the CSI assigns one of three strategies to subwatersheds with wild and native trout in the region. An “Immediate” monitoring designation indicates that shale gas development is currently happening in the watershed and monitoring is needed to determine if there are any impacts to the resource. A “Long-Term” designation shows that the watershed has significant probability of being developed for shale gas in the future. In this case volunteers have the ability to document baseline condition and any changes that may occur during and after development. Finally, a “baseline” monitoring strategy denotes a watershed that does not have a significant probability of shale gas development but has similar geologic characteristics as other watersheds seeing development. This provides volunteers with a chance to collect data that can serve as a reference for watersheds where baseline data does not exist.
This information is all conveyed on a handy GIS mapping application. By combining the expertise of TU’s science team, via the CSI, and the on-the-ground knowledge of our strong volunteer base in PA, WV and VA, we are able to create effective monitoring strategies for each chapter and their local watersheds. This is just another way that the TU grassroots are using sound science to inform conservation strategies.