Large farm equipment spraying crops
Construction site with large areas stripped of soil
Photo by Shuvaev, Wikimedia
Natural Gas mining tower

Challenges Faced by the Watershed

The Buffalo Creek Watershed’s unique ecosystem is important for biodiversity and quality of life for residents, the local economy, and recreational opportunities.

But conservation challenges exist, including impaired water quality, loss of riparian buffers, invasive species, abandoned mine drainage, increased stormwater runoff from development, forest fragmentation, and Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction. The Buffalo Creek Coalition is working with private landowners and municipalities to mitigate these challenges.

Water Quality

Of the watershed’s 348.7 miles of streams, 131.4 miles (37%) are impaired according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP). A stream is considered to be impaired if it fails to meet one or more water quality standards. 27 miles of the main stem of Buffalo Creek are impaired, nearly 70% of the stream’s length. See the Impaired Streams Map

PADEP’s impairment data lists the following top 6 causes of impairment in Buffalo Creek:

  1. Source unknown-cause unknown – 34.6 miles
  2. Agriculture – 27.1 miles
  3. On-site wastewater (septic tanks) – 21.2 miles
  4. Natural sources – 18.6 miles
  5. Acid mine drainage – 16.8 miles
  6. Urban runoff/storm sewers – 8.1 miles

In 2022, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania (ASWP) and Duquesne University launched a water quality sampling program to identify the sources and causes of impairment (where a stream has been deemed impaired but the source and cause of that pollution is unknown) and identify restoration opportunities throughout the watershed.

a film of pollution on water
Runoff Pollution
Green farm tractor spreading chemicals
litter on the bank of a stream

Loss of Riparian Buffers

Riparian buffers, vegetated zones near streams and other water bodies, have enormous benefits, including filtering pollutants, keeping streams cool, stabilizing streambanks and preventing erosion, and providing habitat. Forested riparian buffers provide the most benefits but an area of herbaceous plants – or even an unmowed strip near a stream – can make a big difference to stream health.

Unfortunately, riparian buffers are often lost during development or cleared from residential properties/farms to make space for other land uses. Preserving existing riparian buffers – and replanting when they’ve been removed – is a low-cost solution to protect and improve the overall health of Buffalo Creek.

See our Riparian Buffer Restoration Work

Streambank Erosion
Photo by Patrick Shirley
Erosion of stream banks
Photo by Patrick Shirley

Invasive Species

Invasive plants, insects, and animals present in Buffalo Creek impact ecosystem balance and health. Invasive species are non-native and offer limited or no habitat value. They’re introduced organisms (typically by human activity) that can spread rapidly – displacing and even harming native species. Throughout the watershed, invasive Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) has filled streambanks, disturbed areas, and forest canopy gaps, crowding out space for native plants. Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an invasive pest from east Asia, has become established in and is causing the decline and death of Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis). The hemlocks provide year-round habitat and shade to keep streams cool. They’re also a beautiful, iconic species within the watershed.

Japanese knotweed
Japanese knotweed
Spotted Lanternfly
Spotted Lanterfly