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The Importance of LeTort Spring Run

The LeTort Spring Run is one of the finest limestone trout streams in the nation, but it is also much more than a great place for fly casting. The LeTort is the visible expression of the health of its entire watershed. Like a coal mine's caged canary, the LeTort informs us through its clear currents when the watershed is healthy, and also tells us in other ways when the hidden passageways that feed it are tainted by carelessness, accident, or ignorance.

The LeTort's importance does not derive from its size, nor from any plunging drama in its course, but rather from the cumulative effect of geologic processes that have shaped it through the passage of time. Rising from uncharted underground sources it bursts fully formed and flows nine miles, with little seasonal change in volume or temperature, over a ribbon of rich bottomland in four municipal- ties, through the scenic Cumberland Valley landscape of green rolling hills, farmfields, woodlots, and Carlisle it- self. After joining the Conodoquinet in Middlesex the LeTort's waters eventually dissipate into the Chesapeake Bay. It is with good reason that some storm drains in Mechanicsburg and Harrisburg read, "Tributary of the Chesapeake Bay".

The LeTort is the single visible natural feature that displays the complex geologic unity of Carlisle, South Middleton, North Middleton, and Middlesex. Under these green hills a complex web of cracks, rivulets, and channels connects springs, wells, storm drains, and septic tanks together in ways impossible to untangle or predict.

The LeTort, and the groundwater system that feeds it, are especially vulnerable to pollution because of their lime- stone geology. Pollutants may originate at a specific site such as a leaking underground storage tank, or a chemical spill ("point" sources), or they may be caused by a widespread land use such as soil erosion from construction and agriculture, heavy metals and salts from roads, or fertilizers and pesticides from lawns and farms ("non-point" sources). The LeTort has suffered point source pollution over the last three hundred years, but so far has shown a remarkable ability to recover once the contaminating source is eliminated. During the mid- 1800's, tan yards and mills along the Run had so fouled its waters that, at one point, citizens of Carlisle attacked the offending businesses, knocking down dams and clearing the river bed.

Continued expansion of the area's economy, while benefiting almost everyone, unfortunately also increases the likelihood of stream degradation from the cumulative effect of both "point" and "non-point" sources and the increased risk of industrial accidents. However, permanent damage to this crucial resource can be avoided if citizens and elected officials work for the long-term health of the entire watershed by adopting appropriate standards to ensure that new development is sensitive to the particular character of its geology.

The LeTort Regional Authority is a local public body with the commitment to help protect this unique natural resource, and is the only municipal authority in the Commonwealth incorporated with specific watershed responsibilities. The Authority is dedicated to helping the community grow in a sound and sensitive manner, that allows critical open space and clean water to remain a reality for the citizens (and trout) of the LeTort watershed. This article is part of a brochure which has been prepared to provide a background on the natural features of the watershed, the programs that exist to protect it, and the steps we can all take to secure its future.