Streams and Pollution-Feb. 2001

Pollution And Our Streams

Unlike many of our surrounding communities, Mt. Lebanon is not situated along a major stream. On the contrary, the ‘mount’ in Mt. Lebanon signifies that we are topographically higher than most of the surrounding area. Mt. Lebanon straddles the drainage divide (topographic high) separating two local drainage basins or watersheds. Precipitation runoff, resulting from rain or snow melt, will either drain to the east, into the Sawmill Run drainage basin; or to the west, into the Chartiers Creek drainage basin. The drainage divide roughly parallels Washington Road.

West of the divide, runoff water will follow one of several small stream valleys to either Painters Run, which then flows into Chartiers Creek in Bridgeville, or Scrubgrass Run, which flows into Chartiers Creek in Heidelberg. From Heidelberg, Chartiers Creek flows north through Carnegie, Crafton, and then to McKees Rocks where it empties into the Ohio River. East of the divide, runoff water flows into Sawmill Run in Castle Shannon, then along Sawmill Run Boulevard until it empties into the Ohio River under the West End Bridge.

Although not all runoff from Mt. Lebanon reaches the Ohio River (some is lost to evaporation), what does reach the river begins a potentially long journey to the Gulf of Mexico. From Pittsburgh, the Ohio flows westward past West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois; and ultimately to the Mississippi River. The Mississippi then flows south to Louisiana where it empties into the Gulf. Therefore, the water you see running into a stream valley or a storm sewer during the next rainfall may someday reach the ocean.

However, there are many opportunities for the water to be used along the way. Farms pump river water for irrigation, industries use water for processing, and power plants use the water for cooling. Most importantly, though, many communities along the Ohio River use the river for a water supply, and the river supports fragile water and riparian (water’s edge) ecosystems.

Because of its urban setting and the large area of rooftops, paved roads, and parking lots, most of the precipitation in Mt. Lebanon runs off, rather than being absorbed by the soil. This creates a problem in terms of nonpoint source runoff pollution. Whatever enters the water here in Mt. Lebanon, will eventually find its way into the Ohio River. That includes any excess pesticides and fertilizer used on our lawns; and spilled (or dumped) toxins including paint, oil, and gasoline. However, one of the greatest concerns is direct runoff from our roads. As water flows over the road surface, it picks up dirt, rubber and metal deposits from tire wear, antifreeze and engine oil that has dripped onto the pavement. In the winter, snow runoff contains high concentration of sodium, calcium, and chloride from road deicers used by the municipality and general public. According to Public Works Director, Mike Rudman, Mt. Lebanon Municipality uses approximately 4,000 tons of salt during a typical winter. Add to this the many hundreds of tons used by the public. All of this salt is eventually washed off our streets as runoff and finds its way into the streams and groundwater system. This salt contributes to the degradation of the stream water quality.

How can you help maintain runoff water quality? First, be careful about the chemicals you use around the house. Clean up any spills, use only the recommended amount of fertilizer, and use pesticides only when absolutely necessary. Instead of chemicals, try organic fertilizers and organic pest control methods. Second, minimize the amount of salt you use in the winter to clear off ice. Third, encourage government agencies and businesses to manage waste disposal and use deicers in moderation. Finally, the public should be reminded that purposefully dumping hazardous materials down storm sewers is illegal, severely affects stream water quality, and creates a health hazard. These hazardous materials include engine oil, gasoline, paint thinner, antifreeze, pesticide, and fertilizer; and especially those little plastic bags filled with dog excrement.

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