Luzerne County's fields and streams will benefit from nearly a half million dollars in Growing Greener grants from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the department announced Tuesday.
The largest recipient in the county, the Luzerne Conservation District, will receive $397,778 to build concrete barnyards on four cattle farms – two in Hollenback Township, one in Lehman Township and one in Ross Township – to protect nearby water sources.
When cattle congregate near streams, they can erode banks and muddy the water. Some of that sediment, as well as nitrogen and phosphorous from manure, can wind up in the Susquehanna River and, eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.
Nitrogen can kill fish, said Amy Salansky, agricultural conservation specialist for the conservation district. The sediment fills the bay, and that affects bay grasses. That's where the crabs live.
Chesapeake Bay crab populations had been in decline because of habitat destruction, but are making a comeback thanks to efforts to reduce sediment and nutrient-loading of the bay, some of which comes from farms, Salansky said.
The concrete barnyards that the grants will fund will keep cattle away from streams when they are not grazing.
The Luzerne Conservation District project received one of 78 grants totaling more than $13 million funded this year through the Growing Greener Program.
Funded by the state's Environmental Stewardship Fund, Growing Greener aims to clean rivers and streams; protect natural areas, open spaces and working farms; and shore up programs that improve quality of life and revitalize communities in Pennsylvania.
An additional two program grants will be used in ongoing mine reclamation efforts at a former Blue Coal property in Hanover Township, Newport Township and Nanticoke.
Earth Conservancy, based in Ashley, received $46,750 to level and re-contour culm banks and pits at a 50-acre portion of its Bliss Bank property in Newport Township. The grant will be used for planning and design of the project, said Jacqueline Dickman, director of public affairs and development for the nonprofit.
Once complete, Earth Conservancy will market the property, near Luzerne County Community College, for mixed development use. Besides improving the aesthetic of the area, Dickman said, the project will reduce acid mine drainage in the surrounding watershed.
In addition, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council's northeast division in Luzerne received $11,999 to plant trees and vegetation on a 37-acre parcel of former mine land reclaimed by Earth Conservancy. The land is located between the Sans Souci Parkway and Route 29 in Nanticoke.
The council said the project, expected to start in the fall or next spring, will stabilize the banks of Espy Run and create a wildlife habitat.
Weatherly Borough in Carbon County also was awarded a $10,500 grant for equipment to benefit environmental cleanup efforts in Luzerne County.
The borough, located about two miles from the Carbon-Luzerne County border, will use the grant to install flumes and pressure transducers to measure acid mine drainage flowing into Hazle Creek in Hazle Township, according to DEP. Data collected from the equipment will aid the design of future acid mine drainage remediation systems.