Murrysville area streams buck findings of EPA report
Though a new federal study paints a murky picture about the biological health of streams across the country, local streams and tributaries are in relatively good condition.
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its National Rivers and Streams Assessment, based on data collected in 2008 and 2009. That assessment found that 55 percent of U.S. streams don't support healthy populations of aquatic life and have substantial levels of phosphorus or nitrogen pollution.
But the local picture is better for nature lovers and those gearing up for the April 13 start of trout season.
Murrysville chief ad-ministrator Jim Morrison said the local streams are in good condition. In fact, the municipality is home to two state-designated “high-quality” streams — Haymaker Run and Steels Run.
“What Murrysville residents can be assured of is that we have streams that are of exceptional value or high quality,” Morrison said.
That's not to say they couldn't be better. The streams were designated as “high-quality” in 1979 to protect them and improve the quality of Turtle Creek, said John Poister, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. However, because of run-off from residential plans and silt, they now are classified as impaired, he said.
“That doesn't mean they are not high quality — but they need some work,” Poister said. “There is not much likelihood that there can be much in the way of improvement, other than raising the run-off standard for future development.”
The Murrysville Stream Monitoring Group tests seven streams throughout the municipality each month. Though the group is testing for only one measure — total dissolved solids, which indicate if there are any ionic compounds in the waterways — the streams are looking healthy, group organizer Joe Guthrie said. The testing would show if there were phosphorus in the water, Guthrie said, and no Murrysville stream has failed the test.
“All of our streams are meeting the criteria,” Guthrie said. “They're all testing as acceptable and in good shape. We don't want to alarm anyone.”
State and local officials are diligent about conditions of local streams.
In March 2008, a Murrys-ville company was fined by the DEP for polluting Steels Run with storm-water run-off. The violations dated back to 2004, while the company was constructing a housing plan along Wiestertown Road. As a high-quality stream and cold-water fishery, Steels Run is considered to be a conducive environment for fish.
Haymaker Run flows along the site of Murrysville's latest development project — the Blue Spruce Shoppes. While the EPA report indicates that construction can contribute to pollution in streams, Morrison said that Blue Spruce developers are working to ensure there is no impact to the stream.
The EPA found that 40 percent of the nation's rivers and streams have high levels of phosphorus and 27 percent have high levels of nitrogen. It warns against excess sediment, which was found in 15 percent of waterways. That makes the streams more vulnerable to flooding and allows more pollutants to enter the water.
Guthrie said those problems aren't rampant in Murrysville.
“The (algae) bloom and growth soaks up the oxygen and messes with fish populations,” Guthrie said. “It's due to the nutrients, which can come from detergents and fertilizer. We don't have a big issue with that in Murrysville.”
However, it still is important to keep monitoring the streams, Guthrie and Morrison said.
The EPA report indicates that more projects are needed to prevent pollution and monitor waterways.
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or firstname.lastname@example.org.