Integrated Water Quality Report - 2016
The Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report (Integrated Report) is a comprehensive report of the water quality status of surface waters of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Integrated Report is comprised of the results of assessments for four protected uses of surface waters. These protected uses are: Aquatic Life, Potable Water, Recreation and Fish Consumption. (See 25 Pa. Code § 93.3, Table 1.) The Department assesses water quality data to determine if the surface water is achieving the water quality standards, such as the specific criteria published in Table 3 of Chapter 93 or a designated use such as CWF or Water Contact Recreation. Data used may be laboratory water chemistry, continuous monitoring chemistry, physical habitat, biological such as macroinvertebrates for aquatic life and bacteria for water contact recreation.
The Integrated Report is a report of whether or not a waterbody is achieving the water standards that protect and provide for clean water. It is not an advisory to avoid contact with the surface waters. The assessment of the Aquatic Life Use has been completed for all wadeable waters of the Commonwealth which is approximately 84,000 river and stream miles. The assessment is a measure of the health of the aquatic communities such as benthic macroinvertebrates (insects, worms, clams, crustaceans, etc.) and fish. An impaired aquatic life use of a waterbody means that the overall aquatic community (fish, macroinvertebrates, plants, and algae) is not healthy and there are pollutants or pollution that needs to be minimized or eliminated to return the waterbody to a healthy condition.
The current assessment of the Recreational Use is for primary water contact recreation (swimming and immersion in the water). The Department monitors fecal coliform bacteria as an indicator of the risk of contracting illness from human pathogens in the waterbody. Fecal coliforms are not all pathogenic to humans, but are the most common type of bacteria found in the water and therefore make a good indicator of the risk of contacting human pathogenic bacteria. The water standard for fecal coliforms is a 5-day geometric mean of 200 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 mL (200CFU/100mL). An impaired assessment means that sometime during the bathing season, beginning on May 1 through September 30, the water criteria was violated. This is not an advisory to avoid contact or stay out of the water; it means there is a higher risk of contracting an illness. Ingestion of the untreated water has the highest risk of causing illness.
Typically, bacteria concentrations in surface waters are highest during and immediately after rain events of approximately 0.25 inch or greater rainfall for 1-3 days. During dry low flow periods, which are typical during July and August, bacteria in flowing waters (not necessarily lakes) are lower and the risk of contracting illness is reduced. The Department typically lists the source of bacteria as unknown because in most instances there are not obvious point sources in the area. To determine the source, DEP must conduct a source tracking analysis that looks at the bacterial DNA to determine if it is of human or animal origin. In most cases the source is runoff from the landscape and the bacteria host is not human. Point sources such as Sewage Treatment Plants [STP] have bacteria limits in their permits and so are unlikely to be delivering a pathogenic load to the water when they are in compliance with the limits. The PA Department of Health (DOH) is the regulating authority of most public bathing beaches. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is responsible for State Parks. These agencies utilize E. coli as the indicator rather than fecal coliform. If there is a violation of the E. coli standard, DOH and DCNR at State Park beaches will close the public beach involved.
The assessment of the Fish Consumption Use is a measure of the risk of human health impact through the consumption of contaminated fish and other aquatic animal flesh. If DEP finds elevated levels of chemical contaminants in fish flesh, the surface water is listed as impaired for the Fish Consumption Use and a Fish Consumption Advisory is issued. Consumption advisories provide guidance to individuals or segments of the population that are at greater risk from exposure to contaminants in fish. Advisories are not regulatory standards, but are recommendations intended to provide additional information of particular interest to high-risk groups. These advisories apply only to recreationally caught sport fish in Pennsylvania, not commercial fish. The federal Food and Drug Administration establishes the legal standards for contaminants in food sold commercially, including fish. Fish consumption advisories can be found on the Department's website and in the back of the PA Fish and Boat Commission's fishing regulation book.
The assessment of the Potable Water Supply Use determines if water at the point of a drinking water withdrawal is meeting the water criteria. This is an assessment of the raw water upstream of the withdrawl prior to treatment and is not directly reflective of the finished water provided to users. After treatment by the drinking water supplier, the water must meet the applicable drinking water criteria. An impairment of the raw water before treatment means that the supplier is taking additional steps at additional costs to meet drinking water standards that under normal circumstances would not need done. This use is assessed for waterbodies that serve as a source for an active community water supply. Currently, only a few waterbodies are not attaining this use.
This report is entitled the "2016 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report" (Integrated Report) and satisfies the requirements of both sections 305(b) and 303(d) of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The narrative report contains summaries of various water quality management programs including water quality standards, point and nonpoint source controls. It also includes descriptions of programs to protect lakes, wetlands and groundwater quality. A summary of the use support status of streams and lakes is also presented in the narrative.
DEP has an ongoing program to assess the quality of surface waters in Pennsylvania and identify streams and bodies of water that are not attaining designated and existing uses as "impaired." Water quality standards are comprised of the uses, including antidegradation, that waters can support and goals established to protect those uses. Uses include, among other things, aquatic life, fish consumption, recreation and potable water supply, while the goals are numerical or narrative water quality criteria that express the in-stream levels of substances that must be achieved to support the uses.
Section 303(d) of the Act requires states to list all impaired surface waters not supporting uses even after appropriate and required water pollution control technologies have been applied. The 303(d) list includes the reason for impairment, which may be one or more point sources, like industrial or sewage discharges, or non-point sources, like abandoned mine lands or agricultural runoff and the pollutant causing the impairment such as metals, pH, mercury or siltation.
States or the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must determine the conditions that would return the water to a condition that meets water quality standards. As a follow-up to listing, the state or EPA must develop a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for each waterbody on the list. A TMDL identifies allowable pollutant loads to a waterbody from both point and non-point sources that will prevent a violation of water quality standards. A TMDL also includes a margin of safety to ensure protection of the water.
A TMDL is designed to reduce pollutant loads to impaired waters and enable these waters to meet water quality standards.
Waterbody assessment and data evaluation is a continuous process. The 2016 Integrated Report was developed using information from stream and lake surveys and other sources, including DEP's Instream Comprehensive Evaluation (ICE) Assessment Program, the previous Statewide Surface Water Assessment Program, the Non-point Source Program and, when available, existing and readily available data submitted by external groups and agencies.
I. Distribution of Waterbodies into Use Attainment Categories
The water quality status of Pennsylvania's waters is summarized by using a five-part categorization (lists) of waters according to their use attainment status. The categories represent varying levels of use attainment, ranging from Category 1, where all designated water uses are met, to Category 5, where impairment by pollutants requires a TMDL to correct. These category determinations are based on consideration of data and information consistent with the methods outlined in the Assessment Methodology. Each waterbody segment is placed in one of these categories. Different segments of the same stream may appear on more than one list if the attainment status changes as the water flows downstream. The listing categories are as follows:
Category 1: Waters attaining all designated uses.
Category 2: Waters where some, but not all, designated uses are met. Attainment status of the remaining designated uses maybe unknown because data are insufficient to categorize a water body consistent with the state's listing methodology or may be impaired.
Category 3: Waters for which there are insufficient or no data and information to determine, consistent with the state's listing methodology, if designated uses are met.
Category 4: Waters impaired for one or more designated use but not needing a TMDL. States may place these waters in one of the following three subcategories:
- Category 4A: TMDL is approved.
- Category 4B: Expected to meet all designated uses within a reasonable timeframe (three years).
- Category 4C: Not impaired by a pollutant.
Category 5: Waters impaired for one or more designated uses by any pollutant and requiring the development of a TMDL. Category five includes waters shown to be impaired as the result of biological assessments used to evaluate aquatic life use even if the specific pollutant is not known unless the state can demonstrate that non-pollutant stressors cause the impairment or that no pollutant(s) causes or contribute to the impairment. Category five constitutes the Section 303(d) list that EPA will approve or disapprove under the CWA.
Category 5alt: Waters impaired for one or more designated uses by any pollutant that has been selected for water quality standards restoration through alternatives to TMDLs. These impaired waters remain on the 303(d) list until water quality standards are achieved or a TMDL is developed.
Beginning with this Integrated Report (2016) the US EPA and states are launching a new vision for meeting the goals of CWA Section 303(d). The new vision includes 6 goals: "Engagement", "Integration", "Protection", "Prioritization", "Alternatives" and "Assessment". Detailed information regarding these goals and the new vision can be found on the US EPA website http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/cwa/tmdl/programvision.cfm.
The first of these goals to be implemented was "Engagement" and DEP has been reaching out to County and local government officials, watershed groups and other stakeholders in several watersheds in the Commonwealth. Since 2014 EPA has implemented "Integration" to EPA CWA programs and for 2016 along with the states will begin implementation of "Alternatives". To implement "Alternatives, EPA has provided a new tool to achieve water quality standards in the form of Category 5alt. An alternative restoration approach is a near-term plan, or description of actions, with a schedule and milestones, that is more immediately beneficial or practicable to achieving water quality standards. Obligations to develop TMDLs for waters on Category 5, including Category 5alt, remain unchanged as long as waters remain on the Categories. Category 5alt will contain waterbodies that states have assigned TMDL alternatives to restore waters to water quality standards and have a low priority for TMDL development. To achieve these new goals, DEP is focusing on statewide siltation impairments for TMDL development or TMDL alternatives. The Department has selected twenty four named watersheds across the Commonwealth to focus TMDL development and/or TMDL alternatives. Eight watersheds have been selected for new TMDL development, and have a high priority, with an additional watershed, Casselman River, which needs to have an existing TMDL revised to accommodate recent watershed development activities. The Department has identified sixteen watersheds, found in Appendix H, where TMDL alternatives will be developed to restore water quality standards. These watersheds are areas where state and local governments and watershed groups are actively engaged in activities to restore waters. Even though siltation is the focus, watersheds with other causes of impairment were also selected for prioritization because there were entities interested in working together to improve the watershed. Waters not listed on Category 5alt or in Appendix H have a medium priority for TMDL development. Several watersheds have pollution impairments listed on Category 4C that do not require a TMDL however, for waters selected for TMDL alternatives these impairments are likely to be addressed through the alternative restoration plan. It should be noted that any of the 24 waters selected either for TMDL development or TMDL alternatives may ultimately be switched from one track to the other as a result of new information or lack of progress towards achieving water quality standards.
For more information about the TMDL development priorities and alternative plans click here
II. List Overview
The table on the Report Components page provides the links to the different category lists. The Assessment Methodology is an overview of the methods used to collect, analyze and evaluate the stream and lake assessment information. One through five are as described in the previous section. The stream and lakes are listed separately. The appendices document some of the associated administrative functions, including the solicitation of information from outside the department. All lists are sorted by Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUC) shown in Figure 1. After grouping and sorting by HUC codes, the records are sorted alphabetically by stream name. The "unt" abbreviation in the stream name column stands for unnamed tributary and the number is a code which identifies the specific unnamed tributary. List five includes the sources and causes of the problems (impairments), the date the problem first appeared on list five, and the projected date of TMDL completion. Designated uses are aquatic life, fish consumption, recreation or potable water supply.
III. Using the Lists
The lists are long so they can be difficult to use. As a result, the use of the Integrated Report Viewer is recommended. If you require additional water resource data and information the use of WAVE (WAVE must be viewed utilizing Microsoft Internet Explorer) on the department's website is recommended. The site provides the user with an interactive map making it easier to find waterbodies and geographic areas of interest. A link to WAVE and a tutorial are located at the bottom after the table. In addition, the data layers used to create the Integrated Report can be downloaded from the PASDA website. The streams are available as geodatabases with the attaining streams in the Integrated List Attaining data set and the impaired streams in the Integrated List Nonattaining data set.
To find records in the lists, use the Adobe Acrobat "find" function. For example, search on a stream name. However, some common stream names such as Pine Creek may appear many times so again WAVE is recommended in such cases. The best way to find a specific entry on the lists is to first locate the waterbody on WAVE and note the assessment-ID in the data table window. Type this assessment-ID into the appropriate list's Adobe Acrobat "find" command and it will jump to the record of interest.
View the report and lists
When commenting to the department on a record, please include the assessment-ID as this uniquely identifies the data record.
For questions or general assistance with the Integrated Report please contact the Division of Water Quality Standards at 717-787-9637 or send email to RA-WQAssessments@pa.gov.