And recently, a Pittsburgh-area river was cited for high pollution levels. According to the national environmental group American Rivers, the Lower Youghiogheny River is the 10th most endangered river in the U.S. The Youghiogheny, aka the Yough (rhymes with lock), used to be dotted by coal mines during the Industrial Revolution. More recently it has become more of a living river, and is known for outdoor recreation like rafting.
American Rivers notes that the Youghiogheny has experienced improvements to its health, but recent natural-gas development provides a critical tipping point for the river.
“Beloved for its fishing, paddling and swimming opportunities, and drinking water supply for almost 75 municipalities, the Lower Youghiogheny is being overrun by natural gas development, including fracking wells, tanks, pipelines, freshwater pump operations — and a new power plant may soon get the green light,” reads the American River’s website. “Unless Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania demands a thorough, landscape-scale assessment of potential impacts to this treasured river, the health and welfare of Western Pennsylvania’s residents and visitors could suffer serious harm.”
According to FracTracker Alliance, there are more than 40 active fracking wells within two miles of the Lower Youghiogheny River, and many more in the river’s watershed. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that natural-gas drilling, aka fracking, can contaminate drinking water if not done properly. According to FracTracker Alliance, a cluster of more than a dozen fracking well-pad violations have occurred just east of the Lower Yough, near West Newton.
The Lower Youghiogheny River has become a popular site for river rafting, and has become one of the busiest white-water rafting rivers east of the Mississippi, carrying hundreds of thousands of rafters each year. The Great Allegheny Passage, a popular bike trail, follows the Yough from McKeesport all the way to Confluence, Pa. in Somerset County.
Sean Jackson, Associate of Clean Water Supply for American Rivers, urged action to protect the Youghiogheny from potential pollution.
“The Lower Yough is one of our state’s greatest natural treasures,” said Jackson in a statement. “Local communities, families, and visitors depend on this river for its clean drinking water and endless recreational opportunities. Fracking puts that all at risk.”