Survey: Allegheny River Water Quality Holds Steady
12 September 2015
By Mary Ann Thomas
Water quality is holding steady on the Allegheny River even though
Marcellus shale drilling waste water and other river contaminants
linger, according to one of the most comprehensive water surveys
in the region.
However, all the news is not good: water from a creek in Indiana
County that eventually drains into the Allegheny River via the
Kiski River near Freeport keeps turning up bromide, a salt often
associated with waste water from Marcellus shale fracking and
abandoned mine drainage.
When combined with chlorine to treat drinking water drawn from the
Allegheny, bromide form the carcinogen trihalomethane (THM).
The results are part of the Three Rivers Quest (3RQ) study, now in
its third year, covering more than 30,000 square miles of the
Upper Ohio River Basin. There are 54 sampling locations along the
Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers and at the mouths of their
The highest concentration of bromide, the most persistent
pollutant in the study since it began, was found in Blacklick
Creek in Indiana County. The salt then travels downstream hitting
the Conemaugh, Kiski and Allegheny rivers.
By the time the bromides hit the Kiski and the Allegheny rivers,
they're diluted, according to Beth Dakin, a researcher from
Duquesne University with 3RQ.
THMs showed up at varying levels in 2011 for drinking water
surveys at water authorities including Tarentum, Buffalo Township,
Brackenridge and New Kensington — all of which draw their water
from the Allegheny River.
However, from 2010 to 2015, only Brackenridge violated federal
drinking water standards for THMs in 2011, according to test
results filed with the state Department of Environmental
Frack water bans working
In 2010, when the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority found a
significant increase in bromides in Allegheny River water, a
flurry of testing resulted in a request from the state for sewage
treatment plants to stop accepting frack water.
The studies revealed the major source of bromide in the Allegheny
River basin is the discharges of oil and natural gas waste water,
both conventional and unconventional. Sources include treatment
facilities on Blacklick Creek in Indiana County, Crooked Creek in
Armstrong County, the Allegheny River in Warren, and others,
according to studies by the Pittsburgh Water Authority and DEP.
The DEP ended up asking local sewage authorities in 2011 — which
couldn't treat the water, only dilute it — to voluntarily not
accept the water.
The voluntary ban, imposed by treatment plants throughout the
Alle-Kiski Valley, helped reduce pollutants and improve drinking
water quality in the area, according to Paul Ziemkiewicz, director
of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia
University and one of the researchers with the 3RQ study.
“We were on track to really make a mess of the river,” said
Since the ban, area managers of water plants that draw surface
water from the Allegheny have seen either an improvement in water
quality or no problem at all.
In Brackenridge, where the THMs exceeded federal drinking water
standards for 2011, the levels have since gone down. The borough
serves about 3,000 borough residents and a part of Fawn Township.
“The borough, Allegheny County and DEP all worked hard to reduce
the THMs,” said Denise Tocco, Brackenridge secretary and
The water authority continues to look into ways to better treat
Don Amadee, manager of the Municipal Authority of Buffalo Township
said that THMs have been decreasing in the last several years.
The Authority serves 5,000 residents in Buffalo Township, Freeport
Borough and the South Buffalo Township Municipal Authority.
“Whether it's due to upgrades to our treatment process or changes
in the raw water quality from the river, I can't say,” he said.
The New Kensington Water Authority reports that water quality
trends have been the same for the last eight years, predating the
frack water ban. The Authority serves about 15,000 residents in
New Kensington, Arnold, Lower Burrell, Upper Burrell, Allegheny
Township, Washington Township and parts of Plum.
According to Mark Grossheim, a chemist at the New Kensington Water
Authority, THMs haven't been a problem.
“Raw water quality is good,” he said.
“The important thing is we've had an improving trend against a
background of the coal industry and unconventional oil and gas,”
said Ziemkiewicz. “The Allegheny River is in great shape, there is
no indication of trends either positive or negative.”
Although Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania state director of Clean
Water Action, agrees that the water quality is holding in the
area, there is no guarantee for the future.
“I think that there is nothing enforceable that the state can rely
on and that has been a problem,” Arnowitt said.
The state has voluntarily asked municipal water treatment plants
not to accept fracking water because of the pollution and because
they don't have the technology and equipment to treat the water,
“We would like to see something you can count on before the next
time, when there will be another rush for natural gas. People
won't know what to do with their waste water and we'll be back
where we were and someone will want to take a shortcut,” he said.
The following local water authorities obtain municipal drinking
water from the Allegheny River: Brackenridge, Buffalo Township,
Harrison, New Kensington, Oakmont and Tarentum.
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Read more: http://triblive.com/neighborhoods/yourallekiskivalley/yourallekiskivalleymore/8937723-74/allegheny-river-drinking#ixzz3lbGrmhxB