Water resources of the Pittsburgh area, Pennsylvania

Circular 315

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The per capita use of water in the Pittsburgh area in 1951 was 2, 000 gallons per day fgpd) or twice the per capita use in Pennsylvania as a whole. An average of about 3, 040 million gallons of water was withdrawn from the streams and from the ground each day. Of this amount, nearly 190 million gallons per day (mgd), or 6 percent, was for domestic public water supply. Industry, including public utilities generating steam for electric energy, used approximately 2, 900 mgd, of which about 42 mgd was purchased from public supply sources. In spite of this tremendous demand for water, a sufficient quantity was available to satisfy the needs of the area without serious difficulty. Acid mine drainage presents the greatest single pollution problem in the Pittsburgh area at the present time (1953) because no practical means has been found for its control. The waters of several of the rivers are strongly acid for this reason. Of the three major rivers in the area, Monongahela River waters have the greatest acid concentration and Allegheny River waters the least. Untreated domestic and industrial wastes are additional sources of stream pollution in the area. Much of the water is hard and corrosive, and occasionally has objectionable color, odor, and taste. The treatment used by public water-supply systems using river water is adequate at all times for removal of water-borne causes of disease. Attention is being concentrated on improving the quality of present supplies rather than developing new supplies from upstream tributaries. Present supplies are being improved by providing treatment facilities for disposal of wastes,, by reduction of acid mine drainage discharged into the streams, and by providing storage to augment low flows. The underground water resources are vitally important to the area. The use of ground water in the Pittsburgh area has doubled in the past two decades and in 1951 more ground water was used in Allegheny County than in any other county in Pennsylvania. On the average about 63 mgd was pumped from the ground, not including 1.5 mgd pumped for air conditioning. Most of the present-day wells in the "Triangle area" of Pittsburgh have large yields and many operate continuously throughout the summer. The result has been a marked seasonal decline in water levels in some parts of the Triangle area, especially near the center of pumping. It appears that the maximum rate of summertime use has been reached in this localized area. Water from wells near rivers often has chemical characteristics similar to those of water from the adjacent stream because the well water is supplied largely by river infiltration. The ground water in the Pittsburgh area is generally more highly mineralized than surface water, harder, and contains higher concentrations of iron and manganese, all the result of solution of aquifer minerals by the water during its passage through the ground. Nevertheless, ground water commonly is less corrosive than surface water, contains little or no suspended sediment, and is free of pathogenic bacteria. Both sediment and bacteria are present in considerable quantities in the river water of this area. Water from wells supplied largely by river infiltration may have a temperature variation throughout a year of as much as 30 to 35 F and a variation in hardness of as much as 130 ppm. Certain types of chemicals having objectionable tastes and odors are not always removed by the natural infiltration of the river water to wells but pathogenic bacteria and sediment are. There is only a small range throughout a year in the temperature and chemical quality of water in individual wells farther from the rivers. Such water is generally harder and contains more dissolved solids than water supplied by river infiltration. There is no immediate likelihood of a shortage of water in the area. Present withdrawals of surface water are spread throughout the major river valleys so that the water returned to the stream after use is available for reuse in essentially undiminished quantity. Ground-water use can be increased manyfold without depleting the supply if advantage is taken of the favorable opportunities for inducing the infiltration of surface water into the alluvial aquifers in the major stream valleys. Ground-water recharge supplied by the rivers will reduce the local flow of the rivers by the amount of the infiltration; however most of the ground water used is discharged to streams near the areas of withdrawal.

Additional publication details

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Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Water resources of the Pittsburgh area, Pennsylvania
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Pennsylvania Water Science Center
iv, 56 p. :ill., maps (some col.) ;27 cm.