Hope Blaythorne, an account manager in the recruiting group for IBM sales and distribution, has lived in Solebury Township, Pennsylvania, US for the past ten years. “It’s pretty rural here; there aren’t many big box stores around. We’re not convenient to anything but nature,” she laughs. “We enjoy that. But we have some residual manufacturing here, too, because there’s a quarry.”
Hope became concerned with the environment in her area, and sought to preserve the natural resources of Solebury. The mining going on at the New Hope Crushed Stone quarry (Blasting for rocks is considered non-metal mining) was a challenge from the start. “When they blast at the quarry, the windows rattle and your whole house shakes,” says Hope. “People don’t really think of Pennsylvania when they think of mining, but we have it happening right here.”
According to Hope, while the quarry’s blasts and big trucks barreling through the countryside are a bother, it’s not the biggest issue when compared with the environmental and community effects of the mining. “The real problem is that this quarry is mining below the water table. When quarries are ‘dewatered’ to allow mining like this, they alter groundwater levels and water flow direction,” says Hope.
Basically, the quarries become huge wells. Ground-water levels have been found to drop up to 70 feet and, when the ground water levels are lowered this way, it can affect wells and surface-water bodies.
The mining activities of New Hope Crushed Stone have resulted in decreased ground water elevations and altered flow patterns throughout much of the area. Consequently, many residents have had to lower their well pumps, deepen their wells, or replace their wells.
Primrose Creek runs right through the quarry and is on the “At Risk” list for waterways in Pennsylvania. “North of it, you can see it running in its natural state and we’ve documented the flow. South of the quarry, there used to be pond and a trout fishery. Now there are no fish and there is so much silt that comes down from the quarry that the pond has become a marsh. It doesn’t even look like a pond.”
Primrose Creek Watershed Association
Hope wrote about environmental issues in her local newspaper and showed up at town meetings. “I was out there bringing forward ways we in which we can reduce our carbon footprint” she laughs. “Then the Primrose Creek Watershed Association approached me and said, Would you be willing to work with us? I said, sure, I’d rather have more of a formalized process and organization to support the cause. And it’s been amazing experience to learn more about the hydrological lifecycle and how a watershed feeds – literally – a community, and what happens if that watershed dries up. Water will be worth more than gold in the future, and we have to work to preserve this natural resource in our communities”
The watershed association relies on a tiny budget and some of its work has been funded by Growing Greener grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as well as the township itself. “The township is stressed– like all towns and cities across the country – because of the economy, so the funding for our water testing has been cut. Google Maps can show us from above how the flow has changed, but we still need data points that show the amount of silt, the water flow. I can walk out and see it, but we need the data to prove it, as the quarry has put in a request to dig 50 feet deeper. That next effort could really cause irreversible damage to this area-- all for the sake of one business that is not sustainable,” she says.
One of the ways Hope is gathering data is using a new iPhone application developed by IBM Research called Creek Watch. Creek Watch empowers citizens worldwide to monitor their watersheds and report conditions. Every update provides vital data that local water authorities can use to track pollution, manage water resources and plan environmental programs.
“It takes me five minutes to walk to the creek. I put it on my schedule and I walk over there, take a picture, and come back. I am hoping that visual documentation can reveal more information, especially as I track alongside the weather. This effort blends my personal and professional life in an interesting way. It’s totally in synch with my goals as a person, and I’m happy to see IBM supporting that from a professional perspective, as well.”
The Primrose Creek Watershed Association is also enlisting the help of the entire community. “We recently bought water testing kits and had someone from our local water conservation district come in and train boy scouts and students who want to pursue a future in geology or environmental studies. These kids are going to start doing our water testing. It’s a win-win: they get to be educated and we get the testing done and have the data points we need. And when we get the kids interested, we reach their parents, too.”
“When we get people out there and they see the creek and they see the wildlife, they’re amazed that it exists alongside the quarry. It is so beautiful despite the chaos. And they wonder what this could be if we did not have this silt coming in and how lively could this watershed be?”
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