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Utility company issued violation for polluting local waterways

A waterfall in the Nay Aug Gorge is muddied with sediment.
Aimee Dilger
A waterfall in the Nay Aug Gorge is muddied with sediment on Feb. 21, 2024.

Pennsylvania American Water (PAW) violated the state’s Clean Streams Law during dam upgrades in Dunmore.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officially notified the water company of the violation on Thursday.

The water company received the notice of violation from DEP and are reviewing the document, said a spokesperson for PAW.

DEP received a complaint on Feb. 4 that sediment was flowing down a two-mile stretch of Roaring Brook, beneath the Dunmore No. 7 Reservoir, to the confluence with the Lackawanna River. Then floating further down the river.

The DEP says the water company failed to notify the state agency about the pollution, according to a letter sent to the utility.

The discharge was unpermitted, according to the letter. Construction was not done in a manner to minimize disturbance of the regimen of the stream.

The water company has 15 days to respond to the violation. They must also indicate the cause of the discharge and answer why they did not notify the DEP. The state agency also wants a plan to remediate the pollution. PAW plans to respond within 15 days, said the spokesperson.

Pennsylvania American Water began a $17 million dollar rehabilitation project on the more than 100-year-old dam in October. Two large valves were opened to lower water levels in the reservoir. Upstream sediment from Roaring Brook began to flow through the valves. They are now closed, according to the water company.

Roaring Brook meets the Lackawanna River in South Scranton. It flows through the gorge at Nay Aug Park where, in February, the waterfalls were murky and gray. There were reports that the sediment was making its way from the Lackawanna into the Susquehanna River in Luzerne County.

Environmental advocates, including the Lackawanna River Conservation Association (LRCA), have been asking for an explanation since early February.

Bernie McGurl, the LRCA senior project manager, called it the worst pollution he's seen in the river since beginning with the organization in the 80s.

"I've never seen pollution of this nature, at this scale, in this watershed in my career," said Bernie McGurl, the LRCA senior project manager, after the contamination came to light.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission canceled the first trout stocking in Roaring Brook beneath the dam, said Mike Parker, communications director.

He says at this point, there have not been any fish kills from the contamination.

He says three other trout stockings — two in April and one in October — are postponed for now. The first day of trout season in Pennsylvania is April 6.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org
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