After nearly a year of study and work from water suppliers, state officials, environmental groups and others, a plan has been announced to protect drinking water from its source – the rivers.
The River Alert Information Network (RAIN) announced the Lower Allegheny Regional Partnership and the Lower Monongahela Regional Partnership. It’s a consortium of water suppliers which, in addition to protection, will employ an early-warning spill detection system.
“The idea is to try to protect your water resource, protect the raw water to prevent it from being contaminated, to help reduce costs and treatment and just to protect treatment processes and the finished water that goes to the public,” said Thomas Mccaffrey, with the PA Department of Environmental Protection southwest regional office.
The plan is part of the Safe Drinking Water Act and was developed through the help of the DEP’s Technical Assistance Program. The Lower Allegheny partnership includes Oakmont, New Kensington, Tarentum, Brackenridge and Harrison Township. One of the first things to happen in developing the plan was identifying the biggest threats to the areas.
“And then we come up with management strategies and how we’re going to address those through education, through monitoring, through our website where we can we can have this data uploading and these systems can know right away and they can address an event if it does happen,” said Sherene Hess, project coordinator for RAIN.
The monitoring network includes devices on the Allegheny, Monongahela, Beaver and Youghiogheny rivers, which will monitor water quality in near-real-time, and send the information to the website and to water suppliers.
“It’s good to monitor what’s coming in to our treatment facilities,” said Gina Cyprych, laboratory and water quality manager with PWSA. “It dictates what chemicals we’re using to treat, the efficiency we’re removing chemicals from the river. We want to make sure that we’re all drinking the highest quality water possible.”
The Lower Monongahela Partnership includes Charleroi, Belle Vernon, Washington Township, Newell and Brownsville. The monitoring is part of the management strategy of the plan. It will allow suppliers to identify potential contaminates and sources. But, Hess emphasized, this is a preventive measure as the rivers are currently the cleanest they’ve been in about 100 years.
“We’ve had a lot of industrial pollution and brownfields and abandoned mine drainage and spills and things like that, but our rivers are magnificent now, at this time, we’ve made great strides,” Hess said. “But we still we want to be very vigilant to what’s happening, we want to be alert to what’s going on.”
The DEP funded the study and development; it’s up to the suppliers to fund the implementation. Hess didn’t have exact numbers, but she said the investment will save money in the long run by focusing on raw water.
“That is really where you want to put your efforts, you want to prevent problems before they occur,” she said. “It’s much cheaper and easier to prevent a problem than it is to clean one up, to have find a new water source – that would be an awful, tremendous cost to the community.”
These latest partnerships brings the number of monitoring sites around the state to 24 and in all RAIN has a network of 51 public drinking water systems, including 10 in the West Virginia Monongahela Basin area.