Pennsylvania's Watershed Data System

PA watersheds

Courtesy U.S. Geological Survey


By Merle Jantz

Want to learn more about the sources and quality of your local water? You can now view stream monitoring records online, thanks to a new database from the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers (POWR)

The new data system enables users to find records collected by watershed monitors across the state. The system allows volunteer monitoring groups documenting the impact of various uses and conditions on streams, to disseminate their data, some of it dating as far back as the 1970s.

With state and federal governments poised to spend millions of dollars treating contaminated coal mine discharges, the database will enable policymakers to compare “before” and “after” conditions of affected streams.  

“The PA Watersheds Data System represents an important step forward in Pennsylvania’s water resources management toolkit,” says Cathleen Myers, Deputy Secretary for Water Management for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. “Among other things, it will help governments and private citizens understand the condition of the environment as well as fill in gaps where information is lacking.”       

Waterlogged on a watershed

If you were to stand on a certain hill in northern Potter County during a rainstorm, two things would happen to you. First, you would get wet; more important, though, you would be privileged to witness something that could not happen anywhere else in the state.

Depending on which part of this nameless hill the rain falls on, the droplets will find their way to Lake Erie, the Atlantic Ocean, or the Gulf of Mexico. This is because the hill is at the juncture of three different watersheds.

On that Potter County hill, water falling in one direction finds its way into Lake Erie. In another direction, water flows into the Ohio River, and from there to the Mississippi and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The water that doesn’t go in either of those directions will end up in the Susquehanna, and will enter the Atlantic Ocean either at Delaware Bay or Chesapeake Bay.

Merle Jantz is the managing editor of Mt. Lebanon magazine and a volunteer water monitor for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Published March 2006