Results of a preimpoundment water-quality study of Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania

Water-Resources Investigations Report 85-4023




The water quality of Swatara Creek prior to impoundment by the proposed Swatara Creek Reservoir in south-central Pennsylvania was studied from July 1981 through October 1982. The report, done in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (PaDER), Bureau of State Parks, presents information on existing water-quality conditions. A discussion of possible water-quality conditions in and downstream from the planned impoundment is also included.

Precipitation measured near the study area at Lebanon, Pennsylvania from October 1981 through September 1982 was 8 percent below normal. Streamflow for the same period at Swatara Creek at Harper Tavern just downstream from the study area was 15 percent below the average annual flow. Swatara Creek above Highway 895 has been degraded by acid mine drainage. The main inflow to the planned impoundment has 2.1 times the discharge of Lower Little Swatara Creek--a forested and agricultural basin that is also tributary to the proposed impoundment. During the 1982 water year, 17,400 tons of suspended sediment were transported from the study area. About 46 percent of the annual load was transported during 3 days of high flow. Inflows to the planned impoundment from both Lower Little Swatara Creek and Swatara Creek above Highway 895 were poorly buffered. Measured concentrations of alkalinity and acidity were usually less than 10 mg/L (milligrams per liter) and 5 mg/L as CaCO3, respectively. The inflows contain high concentrations of nutrients and metals that would probably stratify in a reservoir. Maximum concentrations of dissolved nitrate and total phosphorus were 2.6 mg/L and 0.31 mg/L, respectively. At Lower Little Swatara Creek; these concentrations are well above those needed for growth of algae. Maximum observed concentrations for total recoverable iron, aluminum, and manganese at Swatara Creek above Highway 895 at Pine Grove were 100,000 ug/L (micrograms per liter), 66,000 ug/L, and 2,300 ug/L, respectively.

Large increases in metal concentrations along with simultaneous decreases in pH and increases in acidity confirm that mine drainage continues to degrade the water quality of Swatara Creek and may have a large impact on water quality of the planned impoundment. Iron, lead, copper, and zinc concentrations periodically exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) criteria for freshwater aquatic life. Concentrations of manganese and lead also exceeded the U.S. EPA criteria for domestic water supplies and human health, respectively.

The water quality of the Swatara Creek Reservoir will depend on characteristics such as (1) the detention time of water in the lake, (2) the timing and extent of thermal and chemical stratification, (3) sedimentation, and (4) the chemical loading and concentrations in the lake. Each of these characteristics may depend in part, on streamflow.

The impoundment will act as a sediment trap and thus reduce the concentrations of total phosphorus, iron, aluminum, lead, copper, and zinc immediately downstream from the impoundment. Large storm discharges and releases from the hypolimnion of the reservoir to attain the winter-pool level may contain low oxygen concentrations and elevated concentrations of iron, aluminum, lead, copper, and zinc. Unless conservation releases from the multi-level release gates are carefully controlled, low dissolved-oxygen levels and high metal concentrations may degrade the downstream water quality and be detrimental to the aquatic community.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Results of a preimpoundment water-quality study of Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Harrisburg, PA
Contributing office(s):
Pennsylvania Water Science Center
vi, 84 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Swatara Creek
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