Source Water in the Highlands

The sources of water throughout our area seem abundant.  In fact, Pennsylvania has the highest stream density and second only to Alaska for total stream miles in the country with 83,260 miles of streams and rivers!  By many, all of those streams are considered “source water”. Based on the number of individuals living here, there are 150 people per mile of stream in PA. Does that sound like enough?  The Laurel Highlands have hundreds of springs and streams that flow from the hillsides. As population growth continues upward and the impacts of climate change are more understood, we must wonder what will become of our sources of water.  We must protect our waterways and plan for growth by preparing for the impacts of the human footprint.

Mountain Watershed Association supports many source water protection initiatives with different partners throughout the watershed.  Our efforts include participating in regional source water protection committees, sharing water quality data, reviewing pollution discharge permits, and advocating for stricter water quality standards of our surface waters.  Others who join us at these committees we participate in work for water utilities in the area, watershed organizations, urban development planners from local governments, Department of Environmental Protection personnel, and others.  The meaning of source water is sometimes interpreted slightly different between these groups.

MWA has been working with the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County regarding source water protection issues, among other projects, for many years.  Although our organizations’ missions may not be on parallel paths, responding to environmental emergencies in a quick and efficient manner is important to both.  With the recent addition of a Source Water Supervisor, MAWC has established an alert system so we can be notified when there is an environmental emergency. This system is triggered by first responders and emergency management agencies at local, regional, and state level. Recently, we were notified of a tanker truck which spilled raw sewage in Connellsville, PA.  We received updates that the operator of the truck was not seriously injured, any diesel fuel that spilled was cleaned up, and that minimal raw sewage entered a storm drain that led to the Yough before clean up crews were able to arrive. We’ll be able to share necessary alerts to keep our members, followers, and the public better informed.  

The Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, a program of MWA, was invited to participate in the first SW Pennsylvania Water Network Stakeholder Workshop.  This initial group was established to identify a process for our region to adapt water policy and practices that protect public health, recreation, and growth.  As part of the headwaters for the Ohio River, the Youghiogheny River is a source of drinking water for tens of thousands within our area and millions more as the waters flow downstream. 

Nearly 5 Million Americans get their drinking water from drinking water intakes directly from the Ohio River.

Other sources of water for the Ohio include the Gauley River, the New River, and the Cheat River.  These areas, like the Laurel Highlands, are looked at as unparalleled and unique recreation and tourism destinations. The Ohio River Watershed is home to hundreds of high-quality headwater streams that need protection, as well as hundreds of miles of main stems that need a usable future. 

The collaborative effort to improve the quality of our waterways, whether for drinking water or recreational use, is not a closed group! 

Are you aware that the allowable discharge limit of fecal coliform in our surface waters increases during October through April?

The limit increases by a factor of ten.  Meaning, a sewage treatment plant can potentially discharge 10 times the amount of fecal coliform because the “Recreational” season is over. Many river users are still out during late fall, winter, and early spring, whether it be fishing or paddling.  Many surrounding states (Ohio, North Carolina, Maryland, New York) have a single threshold year round.

Become a Member of Mountain Watershed Association.  We’ll keep you up to date about impactful issues, member incentives, upcoming events, and ways to get involved.  The collective voice of our members is also very important in our policy and regulation change efforts and legal battles against polluters.