Good ‘Bad News’ for the Mon

Sometimes we hope for bad news, in the anticipation that it will highlight a problem, increase awareness, and turn it into good news down the line.  I find myself celebrating such a paradox today, as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has characterized the Monongahela River as impaired due to elevated sulfate levels in this major drinking water source.

YAY!  The Mon is impaired!  Wait… no. 

YAY!  Now people will know that the Mon is impaired so they can do something about it!  That’s better.

You may recall that the Monongahela River was listed as #9 on our 2010 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™. The Mon is threatened by the rapid increase in natural gas drilling in the area, which is why it was listed.  However, over time the river has been greatly impacted by coal mining and industrial development.  Abandoned coal mines, natural gas development, stormwater, farms, and other industries lead to increased total dissolved solids in the water.  Sulfates (often smelling like rotten eggs) are a product of those solids, and the reason for the impairment designation.

Last fall, American Rivers collaborated with a number of regional and local groups within Pennsylvania to request that the DEP make this impairment designation.  The DEP has recommended that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accept this status change for the river in their biannual report. 

We are hopeful that the designation will lead to increased protection for the river and the people that drink from its waters.  Moving in that direction, the DEP issued new regulations last year requiring better wastewater management and prohibiting drilling for natural gas within a 150-foot buffer zone around a high-quality stream.  We encourage the new Administration in Pennsylvania to continue down the road to protecting drinking water supplies from potential harm caused by natural gas production.