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Chemical quality of surface water in the Allegheny River basin, Pennsylvania and New York

January 1, 1994

The Allegheny River is the principal source of water to many industries and to communities in the upper Ohio River Valley. The river and its many tributaries pass through 19 counties in northwestern and western Pennsylvania. The population in these counties exceeds 3 million. A major user of the Allegheny River is the city of Pittsburgh, which has a population greater than The Allegheny River is as basic to the economy of the upper Ohio River Valley in western Pennsylvania as are the rich deposits of bituminous coal, gas, and oil that underlie the drainage basin. During the past 5 years many streams that flow into the Allegheny have been low flowing because of droughts affecting much of the eastern United States. Consequently, the concentration of solutes in some streams has been unusually high because of wastes from coal mines and oil wells. These and other water-quality problems in the Allegheny River drainage basin are affecting the economic future of some areas in western Pennsylvania.

Because of environmental factors such as climate, geology, and land and water uses, surface-water quality varies considerably throughout the river basin. The natural quality of headwater streams, for example, is affected by saltwater wastes from petroleum production. One of the streams most affected is Kinzua Creek, which had 2,900 parts per million chloride in a sample taken at Westline on September 2, 1959. However, after such streams as the Conewango, Brokenstraw, Tionesta, Oil, and French Creeks merge with the Allegheny River, the dissolved-solids and chloride concentrations are reduced by dilution. Central segments of the main river receive water from the Clarion River, Redbank, Mahoning, and Crooked Creeks after they have crossed the coal fields of west-central Pennsylvania. At times, therefore, these streams carry coal-mine wastes that are acidic. The Kiskiminetas River, which crosses these coal fields, discharged sulfuric acid into the Allegheny at a rate of 299 tons a day during the 1962 water year (October 1, 1961, to September 30, 1962). Mine water affects the quality of the Allegheny River most noticeably in its lower part where large withdrawals are made by the Pittsburgh Water Company at Aspinwall and the Wilkinsburg-Penn Joint Water Authority at Nadine. At these places raw river water is chemically .treated in modern treatment plants to control such objectionable characteristics as acidity and excessive concentrations of iron and manganese.

Dissolved-solids content in the river varies along its entire length. In its upper reaches the water of the Allegheny River is a sodium chloride type, and at low flow, the sodium chloride is more than half the dissolved solids. In its lower reaches the water is a calcium sulfate .type, and at low flow the calcium sulfate is more than half the dissolved solids. In middle segments of the river from Franklin to Kittanning, water is more dilute and of a mixed type. Many small and several larger streams in the upper basin--such as the Conewango, Brokenstraw, Kinzua, Tionesta, and French Creeks--support large populations of game-fish. Even in segments of the Clarion River, Mahoning, and Redbank Creeks, which are at times affected by coal-mine wastes, fish are present. Although different species withstand varying amounts of contaminants in water, the continued presence of the fish indicates that the water is relatively pure and suitable for recreation and many other uses.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1967
Title Chemical quality of surface water in the Allegheny River basin, Pennsylvania and New York
DOI 10.3133/wsp1835
Authors Edward F. McCarren
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water Supply Paper
Series Number 1835
Index ID wsp1835
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pennsylvania Water Science Center