Reprinted with permission of Reading Eagle Company
Written By:Monica von Dobeneck
Conservation groups join forces with farmers to protect waterways that are part of the vast Delaware River Basin.
Furnace Stream Farms sits at the foot of deeply forested Kittatinny Ridge. Furnace Creek runs through the farm's pastures, still clean and pure after its descent from its headwaters.
At least eight organizations, as well as the dairy farm's owners, are striving to keep it that way.
The farm is one of dozens in Berks County that is getting help from Berks Nature, Stroud Water Research Center, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and their partners in protecting its waters. It is part of a wider effort throughout the Delaware River Basin called the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, a collaboration of 65 nongovernmental organizations working together to protect the Delaware River and its tributaries, which provide drinking water for 15 million people in four states.
"Small streams like this are 90 percent of all stream miles," said Lamonte Garber, watershed coordinator for Stroud Water Research Center, as he looked over Furnace Creek on a farm in Windsor Township belonging to siblings Doris Long and David Kaufman. "It's the best place to get water quality.“
Furnace Creek runs through wetlands on the farm, which act to purify water.
"If we can preserve streams like this, we have a natural water treatment system," Garber said.
Furnace Creek flows into the Maiden Creek and from there to Ontelaunee Lake, which provides drinking water to 125,000 people in Reading and nearby municipalities. From there it continues to the Schuylkill River and eventually the Delaware.
It is also close to the farm's 40 head of cattle, which were milling about in the faded red, 1885 barn on a recent spring day.
Kim Murphy, president of Berks Nature, said the organization has been doing this kind of work for 20 years, but just finished its fourth year as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. Berks Nature and its partners have installed best management practices on 37 farms in Berks County covering 2,013 acres in the past year alone, focusing on the Middle Schuylkill area.
The work on each farm can cost $50,000 to $500,000, depending on its size and needs, she said.
Berks Nature has contributed $750,000 in grants directly, and uses that money to leverage hundreds of thousands more.
The money comes from federal, state and private sources. The William Penn Foundation recently announced $42 million in funding for the Delaware River initiative, a huge boost in the ability to continue the work.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides money through the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The Berks County Conservation District has offered staff expertise and volunteer muscle.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is a funding source. The Reading Area Water Authority assists in planting trees. The state Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program pays rent to farmers for preserving stream buffers.
The farmers themselves contribute labor and maintenance. Kauffman and his son are excavators who lend their machinery.
Unlike the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the Delaware initiative is thus far voluntary for the farmers who choose to participate.
"We prefer it that way," said senior ecologist Larry Lloyd with Berks Nature. "We can proactively work on getting farms environmentally compliant. These are the folks who are feeding us. We owe them help to stay in business.”
Murphy said it works well when professionals and volunteers come together and use data-driven science "to preserve such an identifying industry in Berks County.”