Monongahela River is cleaner, Allegheny ‘impaired,’ state report says
December 29, 2014 11:16 PM
A water skier travels on the Monongahela River as the sun sets over Pittsburgh in August.
By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Monongahela River is no longer listed as degraded because of reduced sulfate contamination, according to a new state water quality assessment report.
But a section of the Allegheny River below Warren, approximately 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 is done to assess the condition of the state’s waterways and was approved Dec. 19 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 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 were 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 located in that river segment, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and led to a complaint by the DEP against the company, and a federal lawsuit by the environmental organization, Clean Water Action.
The water treatment company settled those legal actions by 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 a recommendation to do so by the state Fish and Boat Commission. 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 state report to the EPA is required every two years by the federal Clean Water Act. Since the last report in 2012, 333 miles of previously impaired streams and rivers and 853 lake acres were determined to be restored.
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