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Happy to Be Here: Downgrading Tohickon Creek

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The deadline is upon us for commenting on a disappointing and harmful Draft Tohickon Creek Stream Evaluation Report issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The public comment period ends July 11, the date of this publication.

The creek is a tributary of the Delaware that originates in Nockamixon Township and flows through Tinicum and Plumstead townships.

Marion and Neil Kyde petitioned for the study on behalf of the Tinicum Conservancy amd DEP’s Environmental Quality Board accepted the petition Sept. 19, 1995. Another petition was sent last January and the report was issued this spring.

The petition requests the lower mainstem portion of Tohickon Creek be redesignated to Exceptional Value. With the exception of the Warm Water Fishes, Migratory Fishes designation of Deep Run, the lower Tohickon Creek basin is currently designated Cold Water Fishes, Migratory Fishes.

The draft report is available for review on the Department’s web site at ahs.dep.pa.gov.

The public can encouraged to submit comments using DEP’s online eComment tool at ahs.dep.pa.gov/eComment or ecomment@pa.gov. It is too late to mail comments to the Rachel Carson State Office Building, in Harrisburg.

Contrary to expectations, the report recommends a downgrade of the Tohickon’s current status, which could remove significant protections it has from legal pollution and degradation, especially as dischargers renew permits in the future.

The downgrade decision came despite the fact that Tohickon Creek is part of the federally designated Delaware Wild & Scenic Rivers and the Bucks County Planning Commission calls it a key resource.

The planning commission identifies the upper and lower Tohickon on the Conservation Landscapes map in the 2011 Natural Areas Inventory; it notes that the Tohickon is part of the Lower Delaware River Management Plan; and the creek is identified as a greenspace corridor in the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Connection 2035 Plan.

On the Parks, Open Space, and Greenways map, three greenways are identified as part of the Tohickon Creek watershed: Unami-Beaver-Tohickon-Kimples-Cook conservation greenway, East Branch Perkiomen-Three-Mile Run-Tohickon-Deer Run multi-use greenway, and the Tohickon Creek greenway.

State and county parks have made Tohickon Creek a central focus and Bucks has made acquisition of land along the Tohickon Creek a priority.

The county owns public access land along the Tohickon in Ottsville and it owns and maintains Stover Park and Stover Myers Mill Park. The state operates Ralph Stover State Park and Nockamixon State Park.

Jamie Fosburgh, acting chief of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Partnership, sent comments to Mark Brickner of the Environmental Protection Policy Office on “Tohickon Creek’s status as a congressionally designated component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.”

The state is a partner in that national designation.

Tohickon Creek is one three Pennsylvania tributaries designated along with segments of the Lower Delaware mainstem as a component of the system in 2000. They are Bushkill Creek, Cooks Creek, Tinicum Creek and Tohickon Creek.

Protection of water quality is one of the most important goals of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, Fosburgh wrote. “In establishing the purposes of the system, the act states: ‘It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

The Wild and Scenic River Study identifies Tohickon Creek as an “Exceptional Value Water,” Fosburgh wrote.

“Tohickon Creek has in fact been recognized by the United States Congress as possessing “outstandingly remarkable” natural, cultural, and recreational resource values, which, on the face of it, appears to qualify the Tohickon Creek as an Exceptional Value resource.”

DEP’s Draft Evaluation Report states that, “there is no indication that any potential for a cold water aquatic community exists or has existed within the Tohickon Creek basin downstream of Nockamixon Dam.” It appears to contradict other statements in the Draft Evaluation Report, including documentation that the Tohickon Creek below Nockamixon Dam was specifically designated a Cold Water Fishes stream in 1979.

Fosburgh said that Tohickon Creek has been routinely and annually subject to extreme low summer flows, presumably the result of restricted dam releases, for decades.

He commented on the National Park Service. “The NPS believes that the relevant segment of Tohickon Creek below Nockamixon Dam has been amply demonstrated to meet criteria consistent with the proposed EV classification. It would be nconsistent with the intent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to downgrade the water quality classification of a designated river segment such as Tohickon Creek,” Fosburgh concluded.

He said the National Park Service would welcome the opportunity to work closely with Pa. DEP and other state agencies on strategies to ensure the future for Tohickon Creek.

Fosburgh recommended assessing Nockamixon dam water releases and consider scheduling more releases to protect the “outstandingly remarkable” values and exceptional water quality of Tohickon Creek.

Currently, two water releases take place each year, spring and fall.

Paddlers are invited to participate in the whitewater releases that originate at the dam. Hundreds of boaters bring their canoes, rafts and kayaks to the creek for an exciting trip down to the Delaware.

“The Pa. DEP recently is trying to downgrade the status of our own Tohickon Creek,” Sharon Furlong, speaking for Bucks Environmental Action, wrote to the Herald. “Yet, for over 10 years, numerous requests to raise the status have been rebuffed – and this is their latest answer?

This creek is enjoyed by people trying to spend some time with nature in an increasingly overdeveloped county.

“It is home to creatures with few other homes in the area. Recent reports have indicated that most of Bucks County waters are significantly degraded, yet this stream has been maintained to a high degree. “The reasoning behind this latest PA DEP proposal is that the stream is too warm to sustain its own population of native trout, yet the warmth of the waters is a direct result of artificially controlling the flow from the Nockamixon Dam. If waters were released more often, thus mimicking more natural flows, this supposed argument against upgrading and hence downgrading the status of the creek, would be rendered moot.”

Furlong asks, “So why hasn’t this happened when increasing dam releases has been safely done elsewhere in the country, often resulting in healthier plants, creatures and an entire ecosystem?”

And she says, “Please let this agency know your displeasure about this latest move by writing to ecomment@pa.gov.”

In the June 6 Herald, state Rep. Wendy Ullman alerted readers: “A downgraded designation of the Tohickon would effectively weaken its protections, allowing additional pollutants to be discharged into the Creek. We need to protect the Tohickon Creek from degradation and maintain its pristine status by having the Pa. DEP designate the creek as Exceptional Value (EV), the highest designation for streams in Pennsylvania.

“Tohickon Creek’s designation to Exceptional Value would protect all existing uses of the stream (i.e., by aquatic life and humans) and safeguard the quality of its water. The EV designation would not prohibit development but would require private developers and dischargers seeking to locate in the region to meet standards and use practices that prevent the degradation of waters and wetlands.

“It’s common sense to designate the Tohickon Creek as EV to protect this beloved stream and the surrounding areas from reckless development encouraged by poor environmental regulations.”


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