Pennsylvania American Water Collaborates to Monitor River

Washington PA  Observer Reporter
9 August 2011
By Christie Campbell, Staff writer

Compared to last year, reaching for a glass of ice water to quench your thirst this summer has proven to be a bit tastier.

Last August, Pennsylvania American Water Co. fielded complaints from customers noticing a musty odor and taste to their drinking water.

The problem, said Gary Lobaugh, external affairs manager for the company, stemmed from elevated levels of geosmin and methylisoborneol, which are found in algae.

Although the levels were high, it did not pose a health hazard and the water remained safe to drink.

The elevated algae occurred during a period of hot weather and little rain, but industrial discharges along the river also may have contributed.

In response, PAW formed the Monongahela River Users Group last September.

Its purpose is to provide a collaborative approach to address environmental issues related to the river, including the need for increased monitoring and analysis of water quality. The group meets quarterly.

"We've organized this group to examine the effects of increased activity that could play a role in compromising the health of the Monongahela River watershed and the quality of this regional source of supply," said Paul Zielinski, PAW's director of water quality and environmental compliance.

The Monongahela River has historically supported a variety of industries that discharge into it, including agriculture, mining and more recently, natural gas drilling, said Lobaugh. But the water was "incredibly warm," and temperatures did not dip overnight.

As a result, there were places where river temperatures reached 90 degrees.

The company began increasing its use of carbon filters to combat the taste. Natural gas extraction companies also voluntarily agreed to no longer dump untreated wastewater into the river.

"As we sit here today, we have not seen any uncharacteristic levels of organic or inorganic substances that we saw last year," Lobaugh said. "Source water quality has been typical."

Other members of the users group include the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the River Alert Information Network, Allegheny County Health Dept., Marcellus Shale gas drillers, power companies, other water utilities and industrial users.

"Each of these organizations bring a unique perspective to the importance of this river," said Ron Schwartz, DEP's assistant southwest regional director.

Lobaugh foresees the day when the group also will engage in conversations with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and additional stakeholders since that state is the source of the Monongahela.

Real-time river monitoring information is available at