Nothing in Testing to Indicate Morgantown’s Water Unsafe

Morgantown Dominion Post
10 January 2016
By Paul Ziemkiewicz

As the director of WVU’s Water Research Institute (WRI), I am frequently asked about water quality in the state’s streams and rivers.

In Morgantown, the Monongahela River is critical for recreation, commercial navigation and potable water. Perhaps most importantly, the Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) draws our drinking water from the river.

The WRI has been monitoring the length of the Monongahela River since July 2009, with one of our monitoring stations at the MUB intake in Morgantown. It’s important for the community to know that, despite some recent reports about bromide in the water, our research is conclusive that this is not a problem along the river in West Virginia. We have, however, found elevated concentrations of bromide downstream of Masontown, Pa., where a drinking water utility report an excess of bromide and disinfection byproducts such as trihalomethanes (THM).

We monitor the Monongahela River and its major tributaries for many pollutants including bromide. Bromide is important because when it passes through a drinking water plant’s chlorination system it can attach to naturally occurring methane forming THM. The relationship between intake bromide and output THM is not well understood.

But all public water providers in the United States are required to monitor THM in their distribution systems. The regulatory limit for total THM delivered to customers is 0.08 mg/L. THM is important because under chronic exposure it is considered a carcinogen and is listed as a primary pollutant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

There is no regulatory limit for bromide but we become concerned when river bromide concentrations exceed 0.08 mg/L. That level has been exceeded only once in the Monongahela River at Morgantown over the past five years on July 10, 2014.

It’s important to remember that THM compliance is based on a rolling four quarter average. So, given the low bromide concentrations in the Mon River, it’s no surprise that MUB’s compliance reporting indicates no exceedances of the total THM limit since monitoring began several decades ago.

You can find MUB’s testing results for the last three years on its website: Look under Consumer Confidence Reports.

Bromide is highly concentrated in waste water from gas wells. So, the absence of bromide is a good indicator that the local wells are not leaking.

Since 2011, Northeast Natural Energy (NNE) has drilled four wells upriver from the MUB water intake. Bromide levels at the MUB intake have remained low throughout this period.

Before the first NNE wells were developed in summer 2011, there was justifiable concern in the community that a spill on the well pad could contaminate the Morgantown water supply. As a member of MUB’s Technical Advisory Board at the time, I recommended secondary containment on the site to be implemented prior to drilling the first well. NNE agreed and it was, to my knowledge, the first well in the state with this level of protection.

Finally, the NNE well site on the Morgantown Industrial Park is probably the most thoroughly studied shale gas operation in the country. WVU, Ohio State, the National Energy Technology Laboratory and other federal researchers are on site as part of a U.S. Department of Energy-funded project called the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environmental Laboratory (MSEEL).

NNE drilled two new wells last summer and hydrofracking began in October 2015. As part of MSEEL we started monitoring the river, flowback and produced water from the two new wells and will continue for the next four years.

Parameters include organic, inorganic and radiological contaminants. That information will be available to the public. The results will be used to identify risks and further improve the environmental safety of shale gas operations.

To reiterate, there is nothing in our testing to indicate that Morgantown’s drinking water is unsafe, and we will continue to monitor, paying close attention to potential contamination from wells, to ensure it stays that way.

Our Monongahela River monitoring is supported by the Colcom Foundation. The findings are available at

Paul Ziemkiewicz, Ph.D., is director of WVU’s Water Research Institute. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.