HARRISBURG – Although Pennsylvania has made great progress in cleaning up its rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and other water bodies, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said that a new report submitted to the federal government shows there are still challenges threatening Pennsylvania’s water quality.
The report, entitled “2010 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report,” is submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in accordance with the Clean Water Act, which requires each state to assess water quality within its borders.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the past eight years improving water quality throughout Pennsylvania,” said Hanger. “We’ve worked with municipalities to upgrade their wastewater treatment systems; we’ve worked with developers to minimize runoff; we’ve restored streambanks, reduced erosion and planted riparian buffers; and we’ve worked with the agriculture industry to ensure their operations protect the quality of streams running through their farms.”
The secretary noted that Pennsylvania has classified approximately 3,300 miles of streams as exceptional value and another nearly 23,000 miles as high quality, ensuring the most stringent protections. He added that earlier this year, the state enacted a mandatory 150-foot buffer from all development along these most pristine waterways.
“This work means better water for the state, which is important to our livelihood and health, obviously, but it’s also important to our economy,” said Hanger. “Many industries can’t function if they have to rely on polluted water. And, unfortunately, there are still many threats to the state’s waterways, so unless we continue to address those issues, thousands upon thousands of jobs could be in jeopardy.”
According to the report, 68,320 miles of the state’s 84,867 miles of streams and rivers—or 80 percent—that are assessed for aquatic life use are attaining that water use. Of the impaired miles, 9,413 require development of a total maximum daily load, or TMDL, to reduce pollutant inputs and 6,105 have an approved TMDL. An additional 65 miles are under compliance agreements and are expected to improve within a reasonable amount of time.
In terms of potable water supplies, 2,762 of the 2,883 stream miles assessed for potable water supplies attained that use, while 107 miles required a TMDL and 14 miles had an approved loading plan in place. Lake potable water supply use was assessed for 44,933 acres with 44,921 attaining that designation and 12 impaired acres requiring a TMDL.
Other findings include:
- 39,301 acres of the 76,483 acres of lakes that are assessed for aquatic life are attaining that use. Of the impaired acres, 5,349 require a TMDL, 11,290 have an approved TMDL, and 20,543 acres are impaired but do not require a TMDL because they are not affected by pollutants.
- 1,397 stream miles are assessed for recreational use, but only 701 are attaining that designation. There are 688 impaired miles requiring a TMDL and 8 miles with an approved TMDL in place.
- Lake recreational use was assessed for 79,040 acres with 73,928 attaining, and
5,112 impaired acres requiring a TMDL. This does not include the state’s portion of Lake Erie, which is impaired due to beach closings because of bacteria.
- Of the 4,337 stream miles assessed for fish consumption, 1,907 are impaired and have consumption advisories. Of the impaired miles, 712 have TMDLs.
- 58, 295 acres of lake were assessed for fish consumption and 44,353 of those acres are impaired and have fish consumption advisories, while 5,483 of those impaired acres have TMDLs. The state portion of Lake Erie is not included in the totals, but a fish consumption advisory is in effect for the lake.
The report found that Pennsylvania’s water bodies are facing threats from a variety of industries and are subject to many different types of pollutants. Sources of pollution include agriculture, stormwater runoff, land development, sewage treatment plants, and atmospheric conditions. Some of the pollutants of concern include nutrients, suspended solids, silt, metals and total dissolved solids (TDS).
Hanger said pollution levels and the threats to waterways all across the state justified DEP recommending that the EPA designate certain waters as “impaired.”
The report included those recommendations, which meets the EPA’s “303 (d) list” requirements. The EPA will decide whether to grant the impaired designation.
The Clean Water Act requires all states to submit a 303 (d) list to the EPA for approval every two years. States must identify waterways that require additional pollution controls to attain or maintain applicable water quality standards. Waters must be ranked to take into account uses and the severity of the pollution problem.
Most notable among those recommendations was the Monongahela River in western Pennsylvania, which is listed on the draft list as impaired because of concerns over sulfates—a constituent of TDS.
“We’ve spent a considerable amount of time the past three years assessing the quality of the Monongahela, particularly with respect to TDS and sulfates,” said Hanger. “Our extensive research clearly shows TDS levels in the Mon are close to the upper limits of the safe drinking water standard. This river is stressed, and TDS must be addressed. Any further increases in TDS loads will ensure that the river becomes impaired, adversely affecting all dischargers in the watershed and those businesses and industries that rely on clean Monongahela River water.”