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Environmental Flows from Water Withdrawals in the Marcellus Shale Region

The Appalachian LCC collaborated with Cornell University to study the environmental impacts of water withdrawals in the Central Appalachian region. The rivers and streams of the Central Appalachians are home to more than 200 species of fish and other aquatic life. They also provide a reliable source of drinking water, recreational opportunities and associated economic benefits to people living in large cities and surrounding communities. This research looks at how the region’s surface freshwater supply – and the health of natural systems delivering this resource – have been impacted and may be altered in the coming years under increasing water withdrawals. It focuses on the Marcellus Shale region in the Central Appalachians, including portions of NY, PA, OH, MD, WV and VA.

In addition to considering the cumulative impacts of water withdrawals, the researchers looked at specific impacts of large water withdrawals with hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale region as one example.

The study attempts to answer these key questions:


  • What are the observed impacts of water withdrawals on freshwater fish communities and ecosystems associated with current levels of water withdrawals?
  • What might those impacts look like under a range of potential water withdrawal scenarios associated with expanding energy development?
  • Is it possible, using sophisticated computer modeling techniques, to identify different flow regimes that deliver a more balanced approach for regulating water withdrawals to meet human demands and sustain healthy ecosystems?


The overall goal of this research is to provide new information to help resource managers, industry and others make more informed decisions in achieving sustainable river and stream flows that balance the needs of society and healthy ecosystems.


Information could also be beneficial for early project design and planning as well as setting a foundation for discussions about associated biological and ecological effects.

The research project applied the appropriate models to build a hydrologic foundation and estimate flow alteration. The foundation related existing biological data to flow alteration metrics to develop flow-ecology relationships. Researchers also conducted a pumping and risk analysis designed to discern the nature and degree of potential hydrologic impacts from gas-related water withdrawal, and predict which streams within the Marcellus Shale region may be at highest risk to flow alteration. Altogether the hydrologic foundation, flow-ecology relationships, and pumping- and risk analyses provided guidance for establishing credible and ecologically meaningful flow standards to ensure human and ecosystem water demands are balanced in the Marcellus Shale region.

The study results and recommendations have been finalized and will be released shortly.

Appalachian LCC FY 2011-12 Project Funding

Marcellus Shale Region of the Appalachian LCC