Insect inventory shows Toms Creek still at "High Quality"

Friends of Toms Creek President Gary Gipe, and his 13-year-old son Gary, search a pan of Toms Creek water Thursday evening, looking for various insects living there. The Gipes live near the creek, where Greg often fishes for trout, and would like to see the stream upgraded from High Quality Cold Water Fishery to Exceptional Value CWF. (John Messeder/Gettysburg Times)

One of Adams County's two state-designated High Quality Cold Water Fisheries appears to remain virtually unchanged following a census of bugs - actually, future bugs - conducted by volunteers Thursday evening.

"We had one good (scoring area) and two fair," volunteer and Friends of Toms Creek member Wayne Belt said Friday, adding "meaning that the water quality next to Pine Hill was a rating better than 40."

He said Pine Hill, on the south side of Toms Creek above Mount Hope Road, is in the vicinity of a mine expansion planned by Specialty Granules Inc. The company mines and crushes basalt rock used for asphalt shingles and tennis court surfaces.

In 2011, a group of area residents formed Friends of Toms Creek in an effort to monitor the condition of the waterway, and possibly upgrade the creek from a High Quality to the more stringent Exceptional Value cold water fishery. Toms Creek currently is rated High Quality upstream from the covered bridge on Jacks Mountain Road. Lower quality designators include Cold Water Fishery, and Warm Water Fishery - the latter generally applied as a stream enters lower, warmer, regions of its run. Water unsuitable as a fishery would likely be designated "impaired."

Aquatic insects - macroinvertebrates means they have no bone skeleton and macro, in this instance, indicates generally visible (though possibly barely) visible to the naked eye - are classified according to how well they withstand polluted water. Higher populations of "sensitive" critters means higher quality water.

For Thursday's census, the volunteers stirred up, and scooped with a fine-mesh net, nine square feet of creek bottom in three places: below Pine Hill, near Reeds Bridge, and below where the Tapeworm Railroad once crossed Iron Springs Road. Belt explained that the Pine Hill site scored in the "good" range - the best quality for the type of census performed. The Reeds Bridge and Tapework sites scored "fair" numbers, down slightly from the October 2014 count.

About a quarter of Adams County's approximately 1,300 miles of streams are rated "impaired," Adams County Conservation District Watershed Specialist Adam McClain said Thursday. Impairment typically is caused by such factors as residential development and agricultural runoff.

Toms and Middle creeks are among several High Quality waterways in the county, which counts only one Exceptional Value (EV) stream - Carbaugh Run, east of Caledonia State Park. Carbaugh Run would be the standard against which other potential EV streams would be measured.

McClain said upgrading Toms Creek would require an involved process in which the Department of Environmental Protection would conduct its own census of macroinvertebrate life, as well as measure several other factors according to legislated criteria.

Although Thursday's count resulted in slightly lower populations of insects than last October, Patrick Naugle, past president of the Watershed Alliance of Adams County, said there is no immediate cause for alarm.

"If we continue to get lower numbers then I would say we've had some deterioration," Naugle said Thursday.

Several factors could cause temporary changes in the aquatic population, he said, noting, "That's why you need to have long-term results before you can really say anything definitive."

The macroinvertebrate count is performed twice a year.

Readers may contact John Messeder at john@JohnMesseder.com.

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