April 13, 2016
By: Kathleen Mannard
The three rivers of Pittsburgh act as a symbol of Pittsburgh’s history, transformation, and future. During the steel boom, Pittsburgh’s rivers were heavily polluted with toxic discharge such as benzene, arsenic, and mercury. Forty-four years ago, the EPA implemented the federal Clean Water Act with the goal of cleaning American rivers, lakes, and streams as “fishable and swimmable” by 1983. However, the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers did not reach that goal and in the 21st century we are still transforming the polluted waters.
The Monongahela River stretches 130 miles until it flows into the mouth of the Ohio River at Pittsburgh’s Point. As recent as 2010, the Monongahela River failed the water quality assessment report of the Department of Environmental Protection and became listed as “impaired by sulfates”. Even though Monongahela was reported as cleaner in 2014 and no longer determined “degraded”, the 2014 Allegheny River assessment reported that the Allegheny was also “impaired”. Although these reports are not always positive results of river refurbishment, the Clean Water Act requires these biennial reports to restore impaired bodies of water. But what other means are taken to restore our rivers’ condition? Because the rivers are so vital to our city’s ecosystem, businesses, and identity, organizations such as the Clean Water Action and other federal legislation are crucial for their survival.
In 2015, the EPA finalized the Clean Water Rule which places protections on wetlands and high-water streams that form the foundation of America’s water sources, such as the Ohio River. Specifically Pennsylvania wetlands, streams, and millions of people who receive drinking water connected to these sources are protected under these new federal clean water regulations. The Clean Water Action of Pittsburgh supports the Clean Water Rule because it speaks to their campaign of restoring and protecting Pennsylvania water sources to prevent life harming and life threatening pollution. Not only does this ruling protect water sources and people’s health, it protects our future with water sources affected by climate change and builds a stronger economy. By ensuring that water regulation has federal consequences, smaller stream flows are protected for local drinking supplies. Protecting Pittsburgh’s rivers means protecting all waters of Pennsylvania and beyond.