History of Big Spring:
1970: Fish Commission announces that the Big Spring Fish Culture Station, which is under construction, “will be one of the most modern facilities of its king in the world and it will be one of the few specifically designed to give adequate treatment to waste water emerging from its outflow.” The Commission does not incorporate the pollution prevention technology of water re-circulation into the hatchery’s design, however.
1971: A biological survey of Big Spring Creek finds that, prior to completion of the hatchery, “each sampling station contains pollution sensitive, facilitate and tolerant invertebrates indicating a healthy stream environment.” At this time, the upper half-mile of Big Spring contains a prolific population of wild brook trout.
1972: A Fish Commission official writes that “adequate protection has been and will be provided for the brook trout population” of Big Spring Creek. Operations begin at the Big Spring hatchery. The wastewater treatment system never functions as designed but remains in operation.
Mid to Late 1970’s: By 1974, DER biologists report that the hatchery has caused mild impairment of the upper 1.4 miles of the creek. The wild brook trout population declines rapidly.
1989: The Fish Commission reports that fishing is virtually nonexistent over 95 percent of the upper 1.5 miles of the creek. At PFBC’s request, DEP relaxes several limitations in the discharge permit. PFBC had been threatened with a lawsuit for violating the permit limits.
1992: The first 230 yards of Big Spring Creek is reclassified as “Exceptional Value Waters,” the state’s highest water quality category. “No adverse measurable change” in water quality may occur in this segment.
1993-97: The mass of phosphorus discharged by the hatchery increases 95.8 percent; the mass of suspended sdischarged increases 56 percent.
1997-2000: Biological studies by DEP and others conclude that the hatchery has severely impaired the water quality and aquatic life of Big Spring Creek, which is added to the state’s official list of impaired waters in 1998.
2000: Detection of toxic PCBs in fish tissue samples causes PFBC to issue a warning against eating more than one meal per week of fish caught in waters stocked with Big Spring hatchery trout. The hatchery is the suspected source of PCBs detected “at levels of ecological concern” in the sediment, insects, and fish in Big Spring Creek below the hatchery discharge.
2001: No wild brook trout remain in Big Spring Creek, which has the embarrassing distinction of being simultaneously on the lists of “Exceptional Value” and “impaired” waters. The hatchery closes in November. CVTU receives a Growing Greener grant for the initial assessment phase of the restoration of Big Spring.
2009: We have been awarded the contract for the assessment work at Big Spring. Your Board voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of the Review Committee and selected Rivers Unlimited from Boalsburg. Rivers Unlimited is headed by Casey Clapsaddle who did a lot of design work for the Fish and Wildlife Service and is now out on his own. The assessment work is now underway.
Preliminary data from a recent electro fishing survey of three stations at Big Spring Creek show encouraging signs of recovery. Compared to a similar survey in 2000, there are significant numbers of young-of-the-year Brook and Rainbow trout in the mid and lower areas of the Heritage section where previously there were almost none. Click here for the most recent survey data.