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Mon River water sampling project expands

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 3:47 a.m.
Equipped with sophisticated meters and plastic jugs for gathering samples, members of Mon River and 3 Rivers QUEST teams test water quality on a bi-weekly basis. Eric Slagle | Daily News
Beth Dakin of Duquesne University and Ben Stout from Wheeling Jesuit University take a sample of Allegheny River water in Point State Park on Tuesday. The two schools and the Iron Furnace Chapter of Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited are part of a research project called 3 Rivers QUEST, which is expanded from program started three years ago at West Virginia University. Eric Slagle | Daily News

Two ducks splashed down on the Allegheny River in Point State Park Tuesday afternoon just as a water sampling event was getting under way.

It seemed a fitting occurrence given those attending the ceremony commemorating the start of the new 3 Rivers QUEST water sampling project were environmental specialists committed to monitoring water quality throughout the region.

The program is the outgrowth of Mon River QUEST started at West Virginia University three years ago. Under that program, WVU's Water Research Institute has been monitoring 16 locations in the Monongahela River basin, including sites in Elizabeth and McKeesport, on a bi-weekly basis.

Now, thanks in part to a $700,000 grant from Colcom Foundation of Pittsburgh, the expanded program will track water quality in the Allegheny and Ohio rivers.

Duquesne University will monitor water quality of the lower Allegheny River and its key tributaries and the Iron Furnace Chapter of Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited will test water at sites as far north as the Allegheny National Forest. Wheeling Jesuit University will monitor the Ohio River Pittsburgh to near Parkersburg, W.Va.

In all, 53 testing sites will be on the rivers.

Paul Ziemkiewicz, who heads the Water Research Institute, said the expansion of the program may very well result in improvements to the quality of the three rivers. With data gathered along the Mon and its tributaries, he said coal companies have been able to reduce the flow of mine water into the river when levels are low in late summer and thus reduce salinity in the water.

“I can see the same thing happening here,” Ziemkiewicz said. He noted that the data collected through the region will provide valuable baseline data for tracking the impact of Marcellus shale drilling on water quality.

The test of the Allegheny River on Tuesday showed a low conductivity level, which indicates that salinity levels also are low.

John Stolz, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University, noted the monitoring of sites along the southern Allegheny River will be a move up from environmental testing the center already is involved with along tributaries of Ten Mile Creek near Waynesburg.

In addition to salinity, the river is tested for temperature, total dissolved solids content, oxygen, pH and various minerals.

Carol Zagrocki of the Colcom Foundation noted much of the grant money allocated to the groups is spent on lab testing. The foundation awarded a total of $700,000 to partners in the monitoring program.

At the Pittsburgh event, ceremonial checks of $100,000 each were awarded to Duquesne and Wheeling Jesuit universities and the Trout Unlimited chapter.

“Our best resources are the people who are willing to go out like that,” said Zagrocki of the water testers, who must make their rounds to the rivers regardless of the weather.

Information collected by the Mon and 3 Rivers QUEST groups is available online for free. To learn more about the programs and see data maps, visit

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or

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