Prove your humanity

A new state report finds that one-third of Pennsylvania streams are too polluted for aquatic life, recreation, fish consumption, or to supply drinking water. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection updated the state’s Integrated Water Quality Report, which assessed nearly 85,000 miles of streams, and lists 27,886 miles as polluted. DEP said that is 2,418 more polluted miles than two years ago. Some of the increase is due to a greater number of stream miles state assessed in the 2021 report.

“We are seeing more impaired waters, but it’s because we are looking,” said Dustin Shull, of DEP’s Bureau of Clean Water. Still, the findings represent a 9-percent increase in polluted waterways than the previous report showed.

Philadelphia and the surrounding counties are among those with the highest percentage of polluted streams. In Allegheny County, about 67-percent of streams were impaired.

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Shull.

For example, as the Monongahela River flows north toward Pittsburgh, the report shows it meets federal water quality standards for recreation, but is considered impaired for fish consumption and potable water. “It took several years and hundreds of water samples,” for the state to assess the Mon, according to Shull. “That’s pretty amazing.”

Many of Pittsburgh’s waterways are considered impaired. Image: PA DEP

The Clarion basin, which includes the Clarion River that flows west into the Allegheny River, is designated as part of the National Wild and Scenic River program, but it is 91-percent impaired for fish consumption, according to the report. Shull attributes this to acid mine drainage (AMD), and the resulting heavy metals that flow into waterways and can accumulate in fish tissue.

AMD is listed as the top source of pollution statewide, then agriculture and storm runoff. Water samples were analyzed for ammonia, nitrogen, phosphates, dissolved solids, and other pollutants. 

More than 60-percent of lakes in Pennsylvania were also found to be polluted. The report assessed 109,819 lake acres and found 68,634 of these lake acres impaired for any use. 

The state assesses water quality, and produces the integrated report, as part of reporting required under the federal Clean Water Act. 

DEP is accepting public comment on the report until March 1.

Pa. expects billions from the infrastructure law for coal mine cleanups. Will it help polluted waterways?