Finding Your Pennsylvania Streams Designated Aquatic Life Use

Posted: September 12, 2011

A lot of citizens in the Marcellus Shale Region of Pennsylvania are concerned about the streams that run through their watershed or on their property. The first step is to identify the "Aquatic Life Use Designation" for that stream.

Individuals and watershed associations have started monitoring streams for water quality. Landowners hear the terms “High Quality” or “Exceptional Value” and wonder what this is all about. These terms refer to the Designated Uses which are the uses specified in Chapter 93 regulations (25 Pa. Code) for each surface water body in Pennsylvania, whether or not the stream's defined standards are currently being met.  If you want to find out the Aquatic Life Use Designation for your stream, it is an easy process.

First search on the internet for “25 Pa Code 93.9” and this should get you to this website:  When you scroll down on this page, you will see a list of the drainage basins in Pennsylvania. You need to identify the drainage basin where your stream is located. You will see that the drainage basins are listed in alphabetical order. For example the beginning of the Allegheny River Drainage Basin is labeled “P”. You can then do another search “25 PA Code 93.9p” and this should get you to the list of the streams in your drainage basin and their designated use.

Pennsylvania has established the following designated uses for aquatic life:

  • Warm Water Fishes (WWF)
  • Cold Water Fishes (CWF)
  • Trout Stocking Fishery (TSF)
  • Migratory Fishes (MF)
  • High Quality Warm Water Fishes (HQ-WWF)
  • High Quality Cold Water Fishes (HQ-CWF)
  • High Quality Trout Stocking Fishery (HQ-TSF)
  • Exceptional Value (EV)

You should now be able to find your stream on the list and determine its designated use level. Warm Water Fishes (WWF) streams require the minimum amount of protection in order to sustain their designated use. Exceptional Value (EV) streams require the maximum amount of protection to sustain their designated use. The anti-degradation regulations, another part of Pennsylvania’s Water Quality Standards, give special protections to HQ streams, and even greater protection to EV streams. 

Jim Clark, Extension Educator