PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a water quality improvement plan for bacteria to protect public health and streams, creeks, and a lake in the Pine Creek watershed in Allegheny County, Pa. The waters are severely impacted by sewer overflows, stormwater runoff, failing septic systems, and other sources that have driven bacteria levels as high as 100 times the acceptable limits.
EPA established the bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL for the Pine Creek watershed in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP). This TMDL identifies the maximum amount of bacteria the waterbodies can accept from various sources and still meet Pennsylvania water quality standards.
“We are guiding these reductions in harmful bacteria to protect public health in the Pine Creek watershed,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “These waters are meant for trout fishing, kayaking, canoeing and other recreational activities, and this TMDL provides a clear path to clean water based on extensive data and sound science.”
Pine Creek flows through the North Hills area in Allegheny County and joins the Allegheny River in Etna, north of Pittsburgh. The 67-square-mile watershed includes parts of 14 municipalities.
Since 2008, PADEP has listed Pine Creek and many smaller tributaries in the watershed — 118 stream miles in all — as impaired for recreational uses. Under the federal Clean Water Act, a TMDL is required for waters listed as impaired for a particular pollutant.
Contamination from raw sewage includes hundreds of different types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. The predominant symptoms of pathogenic bacterial infections include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. In addition to attacking the human digestive tract, pathogenic bacteria can cause illnesses such as pneumonia, bronchitis, swimmer’s ear, eye infections and hepatitis.
This TMDL addresses all sources of bacteria in the watershed, from sewage treatment plants and storm water pipes, to more diffuse dischargers such as failing septic systems.
EPA and PADEP solicited broad stakeholder involvement and public participation, and held discussions with local governments on developing a practical framework for achieving the necessary pollution reductions. The framework’s recommendations include encouraging municipalities to take steps that would offer significant and immediate improvements, such as connecting failing septic systems to public sewers and eliminating illicit discharges.
The final TMDL can be downloaded from the EPA mid-Atlantic Region website at www.epa.gov/reg3wapd/pdf/pdf_tmdl/pinecreek-bacteria-mar2013.pdf.