The Youghiogheny River is a popular cold-water trout fishery and a whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking river known throughout the eastern United States. For at least the last six years, it also has been where Confluence Borough discharged untreated sewage.
Last week, prompted by a federal lawsuit filed in May by the statewide environmental organization, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, the borough in southwestern Somerset County agreed to address its illegal wet weather discharge problem and will submit an interim plan to do that within 30 days.
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection and PennFuture, the Confluence Municipal Authority, which operates the borough’s 33-year-old sewage treatment plant, will follow its preliminary filing with a final plan to fix the discharge problem. That will become the framework for a federal court order.
"The preliminary plan will give us a road map to a final agreement,“ said DEP spokesman John Poister. ”We don’t have a firm due date for the final agreement, but it will be soon. We’re not going to wait a long time to address this.“
The discharges are continuing to occur in a section of the river known as the Middle Yough, just downstream from where Laurel Hill Creek and the Casselman River join the Youghiogheny and about 10 miles upstream from Ohiopyle State Park, which is along the Somerset-Fayette county border.
The 17-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, said the sewage plant is "hydraulically overloaded," and the authority has failed to prohibit new connections to the system and hasn’t begun planning, designing or financing new facilities to resolve the overload. The suit states that the discharges violated the federal Water Pollution Control Act and the state Clean Streams Law on more than 500 days since 2008, and that the authority failed to correct problems identified in DEP notices of violation issued in February 2008 and November 2011.
The discharges also violated the treatment plant’s state discharge permit by allowing into the river higher than permitted amounts of fecal coliform, which can harbor viruses and unhealthy bacteria, and suspended solids, which can damage fish habitats.
”This is on one of the nicest 11 miles of trout river in the state, but the DEP and the borough couldn’t find the will to act to make sure it’s cleaned up before,“ said George Jugovic Jr., PennFuture chief council. ”We’re willing to work with the borough, but we’re going in with our eyes wide open. They’ve done little or nothing over 15 years except to identify the problem. We will insist on an enforceable schedule to correct the problem as expeditiously as possible.“
Marc Valentine, the attorney for the Confluence Municipal Authority, could not be reached to comment.
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.