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JUNIATA COLLEGE WETLANDS PROJECT TO LESSEN FLOODING ON LOCAL CREEK AND CREATE OUTDOOR STUDENT LABORATORY

(Posted June 6, 2001)

In order to alleviate flooding into more than 100 homes and businesses in Huntingdon Borough, Juniata College has constructed a large wetland and stormwater detention pool designed to lessen the speed and turbidity of water flow into Muddy Run Creek as it enters a tunnel that flows beneath the city. The large, kidney-shaped wetland, located beyond the centerfield fence of Juniata College's baseball field, is eight feet deep, approximately 25 feet wide and nearly 170 feet long. According to Mark Langenbacher, supervisor of grounds at the college, the wetland, built at a critical bend in the stream, will lessen the speed of the water in Muddy Run during storm events, trap sediment from stormwater runoff and prevent stream bank erosion along the sides of the creek. "We lose two to four feet of bank every year from erosion," Langenbacher says.

He also says the wetland will be used as a study site for the college's biology classes. The idea for construction of the wetland came from students in the Juniata College Conservation Club, who submitted the idea to the Huntingdon County Conservation District several years ago. Students in the Conservation Club and the Environmental Science Society also contributed ideas for design and for plant species to be used in the project.

According to Andy Patterson, district manager of the Huntingdon County Conservation District, the velocity of water in Muddy Run during storm events exceeds the carrying capacity of the tunnel transporting the water under Huntingdon. During storms, flooding and drainage backups can affect more than 150 homes near the creek. Sediment carried by the water also is deposited in the tunnel, lessening the structure's capacity. "As Huntingdon grew and developed, homeowners and businesses built over the creek, creating over time a tunnel constructed of a variety of materials and of varying sizes," Patterson explains. "The tunnel has various sections of pipe, brick, concrete culverts and other materials. The size of the tunnel varies throughout its length."

The Muddy Run Tunnel goes underground near Corbin's Alignment Shop on Moore Street and emerges underneath the J.C. Blair Building in Huntingdon. The wetland, built using an $8,000 grant from the Heinz Foundation's Western Pennsylvania Watershed Protection Program, also will be used to drain runoff water from a massive containment pond behind Ellis College Center. The Ellis pond, one of three large (eight feet deep, 100 feet wide, and 200 feet long) containment facilities built on campus in 1999, catches runoff from several large parking lots and some of the college's athletic fields.

"Runoff water from hard surfaces during storms does not recharge the groundwater resources we rely on and the wetland will help with that to some extent," Patterson says. "Wetlands also have a natural ability to filter and improve water quality."

Langenbacher says the wetland substantially reduces the velocity of storm runoff, and vegetation planted in the wetland will reduce the turbidity (how much sediment is carried by the water) of the stream.

The wetland has been planted with native sedge grasses and aquatic plants, and over the next few years native trees will be planted along the edges of the site. The construction of the site includes several islands in the middle of the wetland and several small jutting peninsulas. "The more irregularity a wetland has in its shape, the better it is for insects, plants and wildlife," says Chuck Yohn, director of the Raystown Field Station, who helped Langenbacher design the site. The Huntingdon County Conservation District also contributed funds from Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's "Growing Greener" Grant Program for purchase of trees and shrubs to stabilize the site.

Langenbacher hopes to eventually incorporate the wetland into an educational site for visitors.

The wetland also will be used as a living laboratory for Juniata biology classes, says Paula Martin, associate professor of environmental science and studies at Juniata. She says the site will be an integral part of her environmental monitoring course and may be used as part of the college's plant systematics course. "One of the things we want to study is how plants inhabit and establish themselves at the site over time," she explains. "We also plan to use the site for independent research projects for individual students."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.