National Academy news: Water quality improvement in southwestern Pennsylvania

PITTSBURGH -- A comprehensive, watershed-based approach is needed to effectively address water quality problems in southwestern Pennsylvania, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. The report outlines a technical framework called the Three Rivers "Comprehensive Watershed Assessment and Response Plan" (CWARP) to deal with these problems, and suggests ways to better unify and coordinate the region's efforts. Currently, water planning and management in southwestern Pennsylvania is highly fragmented; federal and state governments, 11 counties, hundreds of municipalities, and other entities all play roles, but with little coordination or cooperation.

"Creating a cooperative regional effort will be challenging, but southwestern Pennsylvania's water planning issues need to be addressed on that scale, using a comprehensive approach that takes into account multiple uses, needs, and impacts, such as water supply, habitat protection, recreation, and future development," said Jerome Gilbert, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and a consulting engineer in Orinda, Calif. "The region's waters have long been an important asset, but for the area to reach its full potential in terms of recreational use of the rivers and riverbank development, it is important to clean up the waters further and meet standards for water quality." The committee was asked to assess the region's water quality problems and recommend ways that multiple jurisdictions could work together to solve them.

The most pressing water quality problem with the potential to cause human health problems is microbial contamination from improperly managed human wastewater, says the report. In the region's main rivers -- the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio -- stormwater and sewer overflows during wet weather appear to be the major contributors. In many tributaries, microbial water quality does not meet standards even in dry weather, the report adds, which su

Contact: William Kearney, Sara Freuh or Christian Dobbins
The National Academies

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