Pitt Collaboratory Cites Assessment, Public Education, as Keys to Addressing Regional Water Quality

The Pittsburgh Collaboratory for Water Research, Education and Outreach has released a white paper outlining key challenges to water quality research, monitoring and improvement in the region.

The Collaboratory, which was founded in January 2018 by faculty out of The University of Pittsburgh Department of Geology and Environmental Science with support from The Heinz Endowments, today released, “Water Quality in Southwestern Pennsylvania: Knowledge Gaps and Approaches.” The paper’s recommendations are based on a January meeting of regional stakeholders that included representatives from the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and over 50 participants from NGOs and local residents.

“As Southwestern Pennsylvania continues to evolve from its industrial past to become a national leader in innovation and sustainability, it has encountered a complex set of water challenges that threaten the economy, ecology and public health of the region,” reads the executive summary.

The recommendations were based upon participants inputs that were voted to be significant during the January meeting. The recommendations include coordinated efforts to test for a broader range of pollutants, increasing public awareness surrounding water quality issues, broadening water quality information management systems and empowering citizens to assist in the clean-up of legacy contamination. The observations that underlie these recommendations include:

  • Most water quality data in the region comes from the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers. There’s little information available about streams and tributaries that feed the rivers. “Streams like Girty’s Run go from Millvale all the way up to Ross. They likely have an impact on water quality, but they’re not being monitored,” said Collaboratory Director Emily Elliott.
  • There’s no central multi-agency program monitoring the welfare of the Upper Ohio River basin. As a result of this and less allocation of resources, water quality data in western Pennsylvania is much sparser compared to the Eastern part of the state.
  • The types of chemicals being released in the environment are changing, but limited monitoring data makes it difficult to determine the levels of new and old pollutants in waterways. Chemicals released in the region are changing, limited data monitoring makes assessment a challenge.
  • “A lot of people don’t know that their drinking water comes from the Allegheny River,” noted Elliott. “Pollution sources upstream of Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s intake will affect the quality of our water. That includes wastewater treatment plants upstream, acid mine drainage, combined sewer overflows, point sources. We need to take a more comprehensive approach to water and watershed management that thinks about water quality and source monitoring.”

The paper is the second in a series of three examining knowledge gaps surrounding water issues within the region. The Collaboratory will release a third paper discussing regional flooding later this year.




Deborah M. Todd, University of Pittsburgh News at 412-624-6687 (office); 412-519-5965 (cell) or dmtodd@pitt.edu

About the author