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Pittsburgh Pool Water Quality Report

Kathy Knauer, M.S.

3 Rivers 2nd Nature is a project of the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, at Carnegie Mellon University. The goal of the project is to reveal the natural composition of the "living rivers" of Allegheny County. We use the phrase "living rivers' to emphasize that our local rivers are ecosystems not merely urban infrastructure. We are studying the life typically found in and along our urban river systems, and the human infrastructure which affects them. The work is one in a series of studies which will help us understand how to better manage our rivers and streams as natural systems, and public amenities.

In recent years, public interest in riverfronts has begun to shift toward public access, recreational uses and the combined aesthetic and economic values that stem from natural urban amenities. Riverfront trail initiatives, urban stream restoration, waterfront development and new organizations like the Riverlife Task Force, 3 Rivers Wet Weather and the new 3 Riverskeeper indicate the increasing recognition of the value of our river and streams to the lives of Pittsburghers. In this context, citizens want to understand the nature of the opportunities and the water quality issues that constrain the use and appreciation of our waterways. Despite enormous improvement to water quality, there continue to be significant threats to public health, and riparian ecosystems (riverside plant and wildlife communities). The streams, rivers and waterfront are still affected by development, outmoded ideas about rainwater management and a lack of regulatory action. To address this need, the 3 Rivers 2nd Nature project seeks to illustrate opportunities such as intact habitats, increased biodiversity, dry weather water quality and easy public access to the area rivers and streams.

In the year 2000, 3 Rivers 2nd Nature began a study of the water quality in the rivers and streams of Allegheny County. This study, which continued through 2005, intended to reveal the dynamic nature of water quality in our region, in the context of increased public access to the rivers and tributary streams of Allegheny County. Specifically, it will focused on variations in water quality in our rivers and streams during "wet" and "dry" weather, and at different proximities to the riverbanks, such as near the shoreline or in the center of a river. The project was designed to provide a relatively short-term, economical, strategic survey of water quality in the region. The first area to have been studied by the project is the Pittsburgh Pool, that is, the rivers and streams within the pool created by the dam at Emsworth on the Ohio. Upstream boundaries are defined by the dams at Aspinwall on the Allegheny and Braddock on the Monongahela. The project continued throughout Allegheny County over the next four years. This work began to fill the information gaps that limit our ability to discuss the issues of water quality. It is clear that these are issues of vital importance to the region. In the 2000 recreational season (May-September), there was a total of 71 out of 138 days (51% of the time) when the Allegheny County Health Department cautions the public about direct contact with river water. 3 Rivers 2nd Nature aimed to initiate a public dialogue about this kind of problem.