Water-Quality Project Expands to More Rivers

Article excerpt

Bald eagles soaring above the Allegheny River watershed are an indication of cleaner water, but a study may determine how clean it is.

The majestic birds, once considered rare in the region, are more numerous and visible at least in part because of the fish they feed on being more plentiful. That is a direct link to cleaner waterways locally, which is the focus of the Three Rivers QUEST project.

The Three Rivers QUEST Project started out as a study of the Monongahela River Basin in 2009. But a $700,000 grant from the Colcom Foundation in Pittsburgh is allowing the water quality project to expand to the Allegheny and Ohio rivers.

The project is sponsored by the Quality Useful Environmental Study Teams of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University.

Field work will begin in January to monitor the water quality of rivers, paying particular attention to the effects of industrial discharges, in eight counties -- Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Westmoreland, Indiana, Jefferson, Clarion and Cambria.

A long-range study

"This study provides for a large, very long-term look at a watershed," said Melissa O'Neal, QUEST program manager.

The yearlong project covers more than 30,000 square miles of the Upper Ohio River Basin with 54 sampling locations, along the main stem and at the mouths of major tributaries to the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers.

"Geographically, we're covering a large area and looking at total dissolved solids and use that as an indicator and we are trying to see the influence of treated and untreated mine drainage," she said.

The study will provide a baseline, testing for a number of water quality indicators including dissolved oxygen, temperature, acidity, conductivity, fluoride, bromides, sulfate, nitrate, and phosphate as well as metals.

Duquesne University, which received a $100,000 grant for the project, will monitor water quality of the lower Allegheny River and its key tributaries; the Iron Furnace Chapter of Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited will test water at sites as far north as the Allegheny National Forest, and Wheeling Jesuit University will monitor the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to near Parkersburg, W.Va.

Getting a little help

The Three Rivers QUEST project joins other local water quality studies from the state Fish and Boat Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and others. …