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Sediment solution reached for polluted Lackawanna County waterways

Roaring Brook, a tributary of the Lackawanna River, is impaired by sediment from a dam construction project.
Kat Bolus
Roaring Brook, a tributary of the Lackawanna River, is impaired by sediment from a dam construction project.

Pennsylvania American Water will not pay a state penalty for polluting Roaring Brook and the Lackawanna River. Instead, the utility company will put money back in the community.

"It's a very good scenario from an unfortunate situation. We certainly didn't want this to happen in the first place and there are safeguards in the agreement that will hopefully prevent something like this from ever happening again," said Tara Jones, executive director of the Lackawanna River Conservation Association (LRCA). The organization protects and advocates for the river’s watershed.

The water company will spend around $300,000 to create fish habitats along Roaring Brook and stabilize the stream bank, according to a consent order and agreement between the utility and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). PA American Water will add educational features along the waterway and create a fishing deck with handicap access and handicap accessible parking.

The order was signed on June 20. The civil penalty was $170,813. The utility must reimburse DEP around $25,000 for costs related to the issue, according to the agreement.

Jones was among environmental advocates who sent a letter to DEP requesting additional water quality testing.

"We agree with you on the importance and value of both Roaring Brook and the Lackawanna River. The DEP specifically built in measures into the consent order and agreement to address your concerns," Joseph J. Buczynski, DEP's regional director for the Northeast Regional Office, wrote in a response letter.

The letter also detailed the utility's plans for remediation of the situation.

Pennsylvania American Water began a $17 million dollar rehabilitation project on the No. 7 Dam in Dunmore in October. In early February crews restoring the over 150-year-old dam opened a valve to lower the reservoir’s water. Years of sediment flowed into Roaring Brook and then into the Lackawanna and Susquehanna rivers.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection was notified and later charged the utility with violating Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Act.

The consent order and agreement provides a timeline. Sediment flowed from the dam between Feb. 4 — when DEP first received a complaint — until at least Feb. 12. The utility’s initial solution to stop the flow was not enough, so they closed the valve 8 days later, according to the agreement.

The heavy sediment caked the bottom of Roaring Brook and killed macroinvertebrates, which fish rely on for food, and caused ongoing issues along the system. Murky gray water flowed through Nay Aug Park and into the clear Lackawanna River. The PA Fish and Boat Commission did not stock Roaring Brook below the dam with trout.

DEP inspected Roaring Brook for over two months. By March, the sediment was less apparent, according to the agreement.

The state agency also tested the sediment. No forever chemicals (PFAS) were found and historic fill compounds did not exceed state limits. Historic fill is materials like ash and construction and demolition waste from industrial activities before 1988.

DEP also approved PA American Water’s plan of action. The company will install a gage at Cedar Avenue to measure sediment, remove sediment and continue to monitor the situation for at least three years after the dam project is finished.

"This is a great start," said Jones. "And we just want to continue to work with PA American Water to keep implementing these improvements in our watershed."

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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