What is MWA? A quick breakdown.

How it all began…

The Mountain Watershed Association (MWA) is a grassroots community-based organization with its roots in the Indian Creek Watershed (a sub-basin of the Youghiogheny River), located in Westmoreland and Fayette Counties.  Like so many grassroots groups, it began its existence on a dark and stormy night around a community member’s kitchen table, discussing concerns about a possible underground coal mine opening in the watershed.

Since its inception in 1994, we have had this same discussion three times due to the ongoing attempts to deep mine this part of the Laurel Highlands.  MWA continues to build capacity to implement its mission to protect, preserve and restore the Indian Creek Watershed, greater Youghiogheny River Watershed and surrounding areas. What started as two employees for many year, we currently have eight full-time employees, two Americorps members, and numerous supporters,  volunteers and partners. 

MWA retains its grassroots structure, with a Board of Directors of 21 that reaches most decisions by consensus and works to restore and protect our impoverished Appalachian community. It is a constant source of amazement that this board reaches most decisions by consensus, while working to restore and protect our impoverished Appalachian community.

In 1998, MWA developed a comprehensive restoration plan for the 125 square miles of the Indian Creek watershed and has been successful in implementing that comprehensive plan over the past 22 years.

In 2003 we were invited to submit a petition to the international Waterkeeper Alliance to become the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper.  We were accepted.  MWA’s Executive Director took on that role, and in 2006 was able to hire a new employee to fill that position.

In 2010, MWA received a Growing Greener grant to develop a plan explaining the Operations, Maintenance, and Repair of all the treatment systems we had constructed.

Our mission to protect, preserve and restore the Indian Creek Watershed and surrounding areas is pursued through implementation of restoration projects and advocacy nationally, regionally, and locally where issues impact the watershed community’s quality of life.  

MWA’s board has approached its work through both short-term and long-term planning.  These various plans took the form of a prioritized series of objectives to restore the community.  They include:

  • A Comprehensive Restoration Plan for Mine Drainage Remediation (1998)
  • A Rivers Conservation Plan that placed Indian Creek on the Pennsylvania Rivers Registry (1999)
  • A Public Law 83-566 Watershed Assessment in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in order to qualify for federal funding for abandoned mine projects (2000)
  • A Stream Channel Assessment that prioritized problem areas in the Mill Run Sub-basin (2002)
  • An assessment of the upper reaches of the Indian Creek Watershed that prioritized a series of projects needed to refurbish certain stream reaches. (2007)
  • A Source Water Protection Plan for the Indian Creek Water Authority, approved by PADEP and the Youghiogheny River Comprehensive Water Monitoring Project, which takes water samples at 18 points quarterly throughout the watershed in an effort to gather baseline data. (2012)
  • An Oversight and Maintenance Plan for the operation and maintenance of projects. (2014)

What has MWA accomplished?

Among many other intiatives in advocacy, education programs and activities, volunteer work, etc., some of our most notable achievements are:

  • Construction of the Max B. Nobel Mine Drainage Project with funding through the Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) (2000)
  • Building of the Permapress Mine Drainage Treatment Project also in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Construction of a natural stream channel project on the Mill Run Sub basin to address erosion and sedimentation problems in a high quality, cold water fishery as set forth in the Stream Channel Assessment (2005)
  • Built a system to treat the Kalp Discharge (The Anna and Steve Gdosky Indian Creek Restoration Project ) (2007)
  • Setting up a Sustainability Fund 
  • Purchased 9.55 acres to serve as the future site of the Marsolino Mine Drainage Project, the second worst discharge in the Indian Creek Watershed (2008);
  • Completed construction of a public waterline (Phase I) to bring water to homes without potable water in an area of the watershed ravaged by mining (2008)
  • Refurbished the Gallentine Treatment system (2009)
  • Completed the Melcroft Treatment System (2010) 
  • Completed 9.3 miles of trail and two bridges (Melcroft 2013, Donegal 2014) on the Indian Creek Valley Trail. We recently connected the Indian Creek Valley Trail from Route 31 to the Youghiogheny River;
  • Continued to maintain five treatment systems
  • Completed the Poplar Run lime spreading project
  • Applied to Growing Greener and received funding to secure an additional 38.4 acres at the Marsolino site
  • Submitted five Petitions to PADEP to have Areas Designated Unsuitable for Mining
  • Worked to have streams redesignated, including Laurel Run, Middle Fork, Back Creek, and Stoney Run; three of these streams have been upgraded.
  • Launched an initiative to evaluate macroinvertebrates throughout the watershed;
  • Started the Swimmable Fishable Waters Project sampling water for high levels of E. coli throughout the Yough and posting results on the Waterkeeper Alliance Swim Guide (theswimguide.org)  
  • Submitted a proposal and received a Growing Greener grant to develop a pilot project at the Rondell-Correal site, a discharge high in aluminum;  this project remains in progress
  • Rehabilitated the Kalp Treatment System with grants from the Foundation for PA Watersheds, the Office of Surface Mining, and Growing Greener (2014)
  • Installed 24 dataloggers throughout Indian Creek and the Yough as part of the Laurel Highlands Monitoring Project
  • Assumed management of the Youghiogheny River Water Trail, an initiative encouraging paddling on the Pennsylvania portion of the river.
  • Set up an in-house lab to test for E. coli and began an investigation of high E. coli levels in Meadow Run; and
  • Completion of Phase I of the Marsolino Mine Drainage Treatment System.

What else has MWA done?

MWA successfully appealed to the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas to void a zoning special exception for the proposed Amerikohl Curry strip mine located adjacent to Ohiopyle. We challenged DEP’s position regarding logging on the site through our amicus brief on the Curry logging/mining matter. The Interior Board of Land Appeals found that the logging should have been regulated by a mining permit. 

Our various water quality initiatives such as Swimmable Waters program through which we sample for E. coli at popular swimming holes around the Yough (data available online at theswimguide.org) and established an in-house lab for testing. advance independent, comprehensive and fact-based scientific knowledge to foster healthy environments.

We secured two precedent-setting agreements: one with Sunoco Mariner East and the other Rustic Ridge deep mine that require increased protection for populations from harm caused by pollution, reduced environmental burdens, and demanded conditions to protect community quality of life.

We have funded over 60 projects through the Direct Support Project since January 2017. We have had the pleasure of working with more than 30 community groups on shale and coal issues.

MWA set up an Advisory Committee for the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper position engaging community and leadership networks. This Advisory Committee works together on Yough Riverkeeper projects.

What is MWA doing now?

We will continue to address remediation at the Marsolino discharge, the Rondell-Correal discharge, the Lawrence discharge, and the Fulton discharge. 

Comprehensive water sampling is needed to determine which streams are fishable and swimmable. We are excited to work with agency partners in fish sampling. We continue to study the populations of stream insects within the watershed.

In addition, extractive industries continue to threaten the health of our communities and our water. We will continue to hold polluters accountable.

Our work is never done but we’re happy to do it.

What can I do to help?

Becoming a member of Mountain Watershed Association is a wonderful way to show your support of our work. You can sign up as a member here.

We also encourage you to check out our Schedule of Events. If you are interested in volunteering with us, fill out the Volunteer Interest Survey.