Monongahela River is Cleaner, Allegheny ‘Impaired,’ State Report
In biennial report on water quality
29 December 2014
By Don Hopey
A new state water quality assessment report says reduced sulfate
contamination has led to the Monongahela River no longer being
listed as degraded, but a section of the Allegheny River below
Warren, about 190 miles upriver from Pittsburgh’s Point, has been
added to the biennial report’s listing of impaired waterways, and
a lengthy stretch of the Susquehanna River is not listed as
impaired even though the state Fish and Boat Commission believes
it should be.
The 74-page state report, which assessed the condition of the
state’s waterways and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
approved Dec. 19, removes almost 70 miles of the Monongahela River
from the “impaired for potable water use” state listing.
The state Department of Environmental Protection, which did not
respond to a request for comments on the assessment report, first
listed the Mon River as impaired by sulfates in its 2010 water
quality assessment report.
Contributing to the river’s water quality improvement was the
voluntary elimination of Marcellus Shale gas drilling wastewater
discharges into the river in May 2011, said Dave Spotts, chief of
the state Fish and Boat Commission’s Division of Environmental
Services. The reduction of mine water discharges and the closure
of several coal-burning power plants along the river also help, he
However a 2.64-mile segment of the Allegheny River was added to
the impaired list due to discharges of chlorides and total
dissolved solids from Water Treatment Corp., a commercial
wastewater treatment facility in Warren.
The discharges damaged federally endangered Northern Riffleshell
mussels in that river segment, according to the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, and led to a DEP complaint against the company
and a federal lawsuit that the environmental organization, Clean
Water Action, filed.
The water treatment company settled those legal actions, agreeing
to reduce pollutant discharges and install better water treatment
equipment by the end of April 2015, according to the EPA.
“We know that the DEP’s data showed the Allegheny was impaired in
that section, so we are glad to see it show up in the report,”
said Myron Arnowitt, Clean Water Action state director. “It’s an
acknowledgement that there’s a real water quality problem in the
river. We’re hopeful the situation will greatly improve in the
The EPA approval letter also noted that the DEP again did not list
as impaired a 98-mile section of the Susquehanna River from
Sunbury, Northumberland County, to just north of the
Pennsylvania-Maryland border, despite the state Fish and Boat
Commission’s recommendation to do so. Studies of the waterway are
ongoing, and the DEP has listed that section of the river as
“unassessed,” according to the EPA letter.
“It’s been in limbo since 2010,” said John Arway, Fish and Boat
Commission executive director. “We know we have a sick and tumored
bass population in the Susquehanna and enough information to say
the river is sick. We don’t need to know the cause before we
declare it sick.”
The federal Clean Water Act requires the state report to the EPA
every two years. Since the latest report in 2012, 333 miles of
previously impaired streams and rivers and 853 lake acres were
determined to be restored.
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.