Little Pucketa Creek Project Wins Western PA Environmental Award

Despite its diminutive name, Little Pucketa Creek has been causing major flooding problems for some 14,000 homes and businesses around New Kensington for decades, including extensive, devastating damage in Lower and Upper Burrell townships during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, when the swollen stream also rose to within an inch of Valley High School’s front door.

For the past four years, a coalition of partners has been putting innovative measures in place to reduce the stream’s recurring flooding and on Thursday their efforts were recognized with one of five 2012 Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards.

The Westmoreland Conservation District, Pucketa and Chartiers Watershed Association, the New Kensington-Arnold School District, the Municipal Sanitary Authority of the City of New Kensington, Westmoreland County, PennDOT, the State of Pennsylvania, and the Colcom Foundation received the major honor for undertaking this much-need conservation work in one of Westmoreland County’s most severely impacted watersheds.

“This is a tremendous honor and recognition of what the partners on this project have done -- contributing everything from technical expertise, to access to land, to funds -- a combined total of nearly $450,000 -- to improve the quality of life in the Alle-Kiski Valley,” said Greg Phillips, District manager/CEO of the Westmoreland Conservation District, which is coordinating the effort.  “We’ve worked together and put all of our resources together in a way that addresses the Little Pucketa Creek flooding problem in a long-term, conservation-minded and holistic way.”

Most of the work to-date has occurred around Valley High School.  The group has eliminated some significant problems with the stream in this area, like taking out nearly 2,000 tons of sediment that was clogging the channel.  They also installed some new safeguards, including 30 new deflectors made of rock to slow down the stream’s velocity during heavy rains.  And they took steps to prevent problems in the future, such as reducing erosion from the streambanks by shoring them up with rock and new trees and shrubs planted with the help of area high school students.

One of the most significant new flood-reduction measures the partners added is a one-acre debris basin near the high school athletic fields that was completed last November.  This basin, which is one of the largest in Westmoreland County, acts like a strainer in a kitchen sink, catching debris and litter and other pollutants from almost the entire 14-square-mile Little Pucketa Creek Watershed, so that they don’t continue to build up and contribute to flooding.  A similar debris basin was created in Allegheny County to help relieve problems along the flood-prone Girty’s Run.

Many of the newly added measures along Little Pucketa Creek also have the added benefit of improving the quality of the water.  This is the case with a project that transformed little-used tennis courts at the high school into a needed parking lot.  

Although both uses of the land are almost exactly the same size, the new parking lot – with its permeable parking surface -- significantly reduces the amount of water that runs off into the stream, eliminating yet another contributor to flooding.

Part of the flooding problems along Little Pucketa Creek are caused by development – particularly along Route 56, which runs parallel to a major portion of the creek.  The hard-surface roofs of buildings, the concrete sidewalks and paved parking lots have covered nature’s rainwater storage areas, flood plains, and given rainwater few options other than to rush directly into the creek.

With the majority of work around Valley High School now complete, the Westmoreland Conservation District hopes to continue to add conservation measures in other areas of the watershed, particularly in these upper, developed areas such as the City of Lower Burrell and Upper Burrell Township. 

“We also would like to work with municipalities in those areas, and encourage them to review or create ordinances for managing stormwater,” Phillips said.


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