Grant to help improve Schuylkill water quality

Item Photo by Brian Dowlin Bliss Haven Farm in Tilden Township is one of the recipients of a $99,750 grant that aims to prevent manure from entering streams and thus improve the water quality of the Schuylkill River.

Two local farms are the shared recipients of a $99,750 grant for improving water quality in the Schuylkill River and its tributaries.

Bliss Haven Farm in Tilden Township and a farm in Greenwich Township will both have agricultural improvements implemented at their properties in order to prevent manure from entering the water system. The projects, which are funded by a grant from the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, will be completed over a three-year period and the Berks County Conservancy will oversee the work that is expected to begin this fall.

Included in the projects will be streambank fencing, manure storage facilities, a waste transfer system, and storm water controls.

'The manure storage facility basically allows the farmer to house the dairy farm manure in a contained facility,' said Tim Fenchel, grants coordinator at Schuylkill River Heritage Area. 'That keeps storm water from carrying the nutrients from the manure into the streams.'

The tanks in which the manure will be stored are 90 feet in diameter and 12-16 feet deep, according to Berks County Conservancy Senior Ecologist Larry Lloyd.

'This is going to speak to the nitrogen levels in the water, the phosphorus levels in the water, and also other things that can be carried by animal manure, based on what they're being fed, or antibiotics…hormones, the standard stuff,' said Lloyd. 'So, all this stuff will be prevented from entering the stream.'

Streambank fencing, constructed of electrically charged high tensile wire, will also help increase water quality by restricting the access of animals to streams. The fencing, which was installed at the Tilden location last year and will be placed at the Greenwich farm this year, will also prevent animals from damaging stream banks and speeding up the erosion process. Also, there will be an 'animal alley way,' which is a series of walkways that will be built to direct animals as they are moved from one grazing area to another on the property.

In addition to the fencing and manure storage facilities, the properties will also have waste transfer systems and storm water controls implemented. The transfer system will transport waste from the milk house to the manure storage tank and storm water controls will prevent rain water from carrying wastes into the streams.

Storm water controls include the installation of gutters, downspouts, and underwater piping to keep storm water off the barnyard and from where the animals live.

Before any of the agricultural improvements are implemented, as well as afterward, the water quality will be monitored in order to gauge the effectiveness of the projects.

'We are doing on these particular farms pre- and post-monitoring of the water quality,' said Lloyd. 'We also will be doing pre- and post-testing of the water for nitrogen, phosphorus, to see what our impacts are. Just empirically, though, that amount of manure not entering the waterways and not having the animals in there be a big benefit to the water quality of the Schuylkill River.'

'Over the past seven years, the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund has helped fund 30 projects, effectively reducing the amount of pollutants entering the river and its tributaries,' said Kurt Zwikl, executive director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, at the grant presentation on Thursday. 'We are grateful to the unique partnerships that have formed to support this fund, which is helping us improve water quality throughout the watershed.'

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