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Water company responds to violation charge

The Dunmore reservoir.
Aimee Dilger
The Dunmore reservoir.

Pennsylvania American Water (PAW) acknowledged what the company is calling an “unanticipated discharge” of sediment into Roaring Brook in Lackawanna County.

That’s in a response letter to a notice of violation of the state’s Clean Streams Act.

The utility contracted a consulting engineering firm, Skelly and Loy, to conduct an environmental assessment of the pollution. It will begin immediately studying the impacts of that sediment in both Roaring Brook and the Lackawanna River.

In early February, gray, murky sediment began flowing down Roaring Brook and into the Lackawanna River, raising alarm from many environmental organizations and community members. The pollution was spotted in the Susquehanna River at its confluence with the Lackawanna in Luzerne County.

On March 7, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued the violation. The water company had 15 days to provide DEP with a cause for the discharge and answer why they did not notify the agency immediately. PAW responded on March 20.

The $17 million project to rehabilitate the over 100-year old dam began in November.

DEP says the discharge was not permitted. In its response letter, PA American Water says that the company received permission from DEP and the Fish and Boat Commission to lower the reservoir pool 15 feet below its normal pool elevation. The reservoir had to be drawn down in order to perform work and in order to do that, an outlet had to be unclogged, according to the water company’s response. Outlets in dams allow water to exit.

The outlet was operational by Feb. 2. Initially the water flowing through it was clear, the water company says.

“However, due to recent heavy rain, lowering water levels, and historic deposition, on or before February 4, the flow through the outlet apparently began to carry sediment,” the company says in its letter.

After the contamination, PAW closed the outlets to let the water level return to normal and stop the release of any discharge.

In the violation, DEP asks the water company to answer why they did not immediately notify the agency of the sediment.

PAW says they first learned about the issue from DEP. They did not provide a formal notice to the department since a representative from the agency has already received a complaint. By Feb. 5, both parties were already communicating about the issue.

PAW installed a downstream check dam before work began on the dam. They added another one while repairing the outlet and took other precautions. After the sediment was released, a large riprap dam was put across Roaring Brook.

Skelly and Loy’s Plan of Study includes an assessment of Roaring Brook and the Lackawanna River. Nine sample stations will be established. Photographs will be taken to monitor the waterways. The firm will also study the macroinvertebrate community. It will be conducted between March and April.

The firm’s plan has already identified two areas for likely remedial action: the section of Roaring Brook between Ash Street and Myrtle Street Bridges and Roaring Brook at the confluence with the Lackawanna River.

DEP Spokesperson Colleen Connelly says the agency is still reviewing the response.

The water company is proposing to meet with DEP and other stakeholders the week of April 15 to continue discussing the issue.

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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