Monongahela River is Cleaner, Allegheny ‘Impaired,’ State Report Says

In biennial report on water quality

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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 said.

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 near future.”

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: or 412-263-1983.