Watershed Info & GIS

Location of the Little Conestoga Watershed

The Little Conestoga Watershed is in the eastern section of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the central-western portion of Lancaster County.

Importance of the Little Conestoga Watershed

The majority of Lancaster residents obtain their drinking water from the Conestoga and Susquehanna Rivers. The Conestoga River Watershed has the highest nutrient concentration of any watershed flowing into the Susquehanna River. Nutrients are detrimental to water quality because they contribute to large amounts of algae, which can use up the available oxygen in the water. Algae also block light to the grasses that help supply oxygen to the water. The Little Conestoga Creek is a tributary of the Conestoga River, and has a watershed area of 65.5 square miles. The upper and lower regions of the Little Conestoga watershed are more than 80 percent agricultural land, a primary contributor of nutrient pollution from animal wastes. The central portion of the watershed is primarily used for commercial and industrial purposes.

Poor water quality in the Little Conestoga Creek directly affects downstream communities. The larger Susquehanna River discharges 19 million gallons of water into the Chesapeake Bay every minute and supplies nearly half of the Chesapeake's fresh water. The Susquehanna River also contributes over 40 percent of the bay's excess nitrogen and phosphorus, much of it derived from the five million tons of livestock manure produced annually in Lancaster County.

Water Quality

High nutrient levels, severe bank erosion, siltation, urban stormwater runoff, and industrial point source pollution have put the Little Conestoga Creek on the List of Impaired Waters by Section 303(d) of the Federal Clean Water Act. A study of the Little Conestoga Creek by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay found waters with nitrate ion levels exceeding those allowable for drinking water. This has had a direct effect on the water quality and aquatic life in the Little Conestoga Creek. The study tested nitrate ion and phosphate ion levels as well as the amount and diversity of insect populations. Water quality in the lower part of the basin, on the West Branch of the Little Conestoga Creek, was found to be the poorest.

Effects of Suburban Sprawl

Suburban sprawl is one of the largest growing environmental problems in Lancaster County today. One of the significant problems of suburban sprawl is the replacement of natural landscapes with impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt do not allow the ground to absorb rainwater. Rainwater flows into tributaries at a faster rate and can cause flooding and severe erosion. The presence of impervious surfaces also allows pollutants and sediment to enter the stream. A large source of pollution to the Little Conestoga Creek stems from the runoff from the Park City Mall. The mall was built without the use of retention basins to catch runoff from the paved parking lots. As a result, water mixed with gasoline, oil and coolant from the underbeds of cars flows directly into the Conestoga Creek.



"The Landowner Guide to Buffer Success" published by the CBF

Ways You Can Help the Little Conestoga


  • Residents
    For those living near the Little Conestoga, it is important to remember that stream side habitat is important for maintaining good water quality in the stream. Many residents along the Little Conestoga have a misconception that they will violate weed ordinances if they do not mow right up to the stream edge. However, it is important to leave a buffer zone adjacent to the stream bank in order to prevent soil runoff and erosion. Planting native grasses next to the river will not only provide an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere to your lawn, but will also maintain the habitat necessary for a thriving river environment.


  • Farmers
    Stream restoration can benefit farmers in a number of ways. By using barnyard management practices, farmers can improve their herd health and benefit economically. Barnyard management includes preventing livestock from entering streams, collecting manure in manure pits, limiting the number of cattle allowed to graze on a parcel of land, and controlling manure spraying to achieve the most desired effects.


  • Preventing Livestock from Entering Streams
    By preventing livestock from entering streams, the health of the whole herd is improved for a variety of reasons. When cows are permitted to stand in an unhealthy stream, they are more likely to develop hoof diseases. Cows may also become sick if they are allowed to drink unsanitary water from a stream. If they are fenced off from the stream, they are forced to come back to the barn to obtain sanitary water.

    Many farmers in the Little Conestoga Watershed have successfully fenced off tributaries in order to improve the health of their herd. This is accomplished by installing electrical fencing along the stream corridor and leaving cattle crossings at intervals. These crossings are often made of hog slats that allow the stream to flow through them. By fencing off the stream, a riparian buffer is allowed to grow in order to catch eroded material and runoff from the pasture.


  • Collecting Manure in Manure Pits
    Some farmers have discovered a way to make a profit from their excess manure. It is sometimes possible to recycle manure by selling it to farmers who do not raise cattle.


  • Limiting the Number of Cattle
    By limiting the number of cattle you allow to graze on a plot of land, you are not only assuring that your cattle are provided with adequate amounts of grass but also that their defecations do not erode off the land into adjacent streams. This ensures that streams flow clear and clean, protecting them for future generations.


  • Controlling Manure Spreading
    Their are many benefits to developing a proper manure management plan. For some general guidelines on Manure Spreading, follow this link to the University of Wisconsin's Water Resources Programs website. (This file is in pdf format.)