Determining a Water Budget for a Suburban Headwater Stream: McCarthy Run, Indiana, PA

Students: Ian Darragh Ryann Knowles

Mentor: Dr. Katie Farnsworth


The water quality of a stream is important because it affects the quality of the surrounding environment, and the drinking water for the proximal population and downstream. Water quality is negatively impacted by any pollutants that enter our waterways. This waste finds its way into the water systems through runoff from impervious surfaces or from legacy pollutants. Locally in Marsh Run, the legacy pollutants are due to tanneries, glass factories and scrap/junk yards that were previously located in the watershed.

Marsh Run is a headwater stream, located in Indiana Borough, Pennsylvania (pop. 13,000 + seasonal university population of 11,000). It drains an area of 2.5 square miles, composed of mostly commercial and residential landuse. Both the two first-order streams (50% of watershed), and the main-stem, run under a multitude of paved surfaces as well as along many impervious surfaces and through many locations that have legacy pollutants.

The overall goal of this project was to characterize the water quality of Marsh Run and identify specific source areas of concern. This was accomplished with monthly water samples throughout the watershed as well as instrumentation (Solinst level loggers and Rain Loggers) to monitor precipitation and streamflow.

Results show a not unexpected conclusion of higher concentrations present during low flow conditions, with dilution of dissolved material during stormflow conditions due to primarily surface runoff. As Indiana, PA receives the annual rainfall distributed quite evenly throughout the year, there is no obvious time when surface runoff contributes significant dissolved material. There is one site location on the northwest tributary with abnormally higher concentrations. This is just downstream of the daylighting of the stream after flowing subsurface infrastructure for 600 feet under a commercial district.


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