Comparative Data Now Available to Track Any Future Water Quality Changes
HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC; www.srbc.net) today released its second data report (mdw.srbc.net/remotewaterquality/reports.htm) on water quality conditions in small watersheds in the Marcellus shale region of the Susquehanna River Basin. Prior to 2010 when SRBC began collecting the data through its state-of-the-art Remote Water Quality Monitoring Network (RWQMN), little to no water quality data existed for many smaller streams in northern Pennsylvania and southern tier New York. SRBC’s first data report in 2012 established preliminary baseline, or existing, conditions within the first 37 of 58 watersheds that SRBC is monitoring through the RWQMN. This second data report provides a more comprehensive report of conditions across the full monitoring network.
“The Commission takes very seriously one of its core functions of monitoring water quality conditions in the streams and rivers of the Susquehanna Basin,” said SRBC Executive Director Andrew Dehoff. “This second report provides more information on the data collected as part of the Commission’s effort to evaluate whether or not water quality conditions are reflecting impacts associated with natural gas drilling.”
Each RWQMN station is equipped with sensors that can continuously detect subtle changes in water temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductance (ability to conduct electricity, which typically increases as levels of dissolved solids increase) and turbidity (water clarity). The water quality parameters are measured at 5-minute intervals and transmitted to SRBC headquarters in Harrisburg every 2 to 4 hours. The raw, unadjusted data are then made available to the public at http://mdw.srbc.net/remotewaterquality/data_viewer.aspx. A user-friendly map, graphs and charts are key features for viewing and understanding the data.
The data report outlines the process SRBC is using to characterize conditions for the monitored watersheds, including analyses based on ecoregion group, water chemistry, and trend analyses for three stations with sufficient data records of three full years.
The parameters of primary interest in areas of natural gas drilling are conductance and turbidity since those are the most likely to rise if local streams are being impacted by drilling activities. SRBC also collects quarterly samples for more than 20 other parameters for lab analysis, some of which serve as more specific indicators of natural gas drilling activities.
Of the 50 watersheds covered in this data report, SRBC has not observed any unusual results outside of some existing pollution issues such as those associated with mine drainage, road salting, and agricultural/urban runoff, as well as some isolated incidents associated with brief turbidity spikes as a result of pipeline construction activity. As more stations accumulate three years of continuous data, SRBC staff will be able to detect any longer-term water quality trends in addition to immediate impacts. The first three stations undergoing these statistical analyses showed no definitive trends, with no obvious correlation to drilling activity.
Upcoming assessments include performing trend analyses on a larger set of data from 37 stations that reached the 3-year data record mark at the end of 2013. In addition, the Commission continues to collect more refined data at select stations to better understand fluctuations in water chemistry. Lastly, future reports will also start to look more closely at results from aquatic biological community data collected at all stations.
SRBC’s overarching objective of the RWQMN is to apply good science to track changes in water quality conditions over time and to allow for timely responses in the case of pollution events. Other objectives are to reduce the cost of data collection by using advanced technologies, to enhance water supply protection through source water monitoring, and to be responsive to public concerns.
The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based SRBC is the governing agency established under a 100-year compact signed on December 24, 1970 by the federal government and the states of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland to protect and wisely manage the water resources of the Susquehanna River Basin. The Susquehanna River starts in Cooperstown, New York, and flows 444 miles to Havre de Grace, Maryland, where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay.