3 Rivers Quest

3 Rivers QUEST (Quality Useful Environmental Study Teams) is a comprehensive water quality monitoring and reporting program, sampling all three of Pittsburgh's rivers, their 3 Rivers Quest Siteheadwaters, and their tributaries. The Program was started by the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University in 2009 sampling the Monongahela and has since expanded. Sampling has taken place over the past few years, with Duquesne joining the program in 2013. There are several groups involved in data collection:

  • Duquesne University sampling the Lower Allegheny River
  • Iron Furnace Chapter of Trout Unlimited sampling on the Upper Allegheny
  • West Virginia University sampling the Monongahela River
  • Wheeling Jesuit University sampling the Upper Ohio River

As the most important natural resources in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers are great sources of drinking water. The Allegheny alone supplies water to more than one million people, and yet its use is threatened by our economic and industrial activities. Clean water is essential for life and it is important that we make efforts to monitor and improve the quality of the water upon which both people and the environment are reliant.

This program is important because, although water quality testing has been conducted in these river basins, no reporting program has been establish that allows all data to be available to create a baseline of the water quality. This baseline will allow for future comparison of water quality. Visit their website for more details: www.3riversquest.org. This project would not be possible without the generous support from its Sponsor, the Colcom Foundation.

Want to Learn More?

For information on how to get involved in the 3 Rivers QUEST program, contact Dr. Brady Porter at porterb@duq.edu.

Some of Our Findings

The research conducted by Duquesne University focuses on the data collected biweekly from 14 sites on the Lower Allegheny River and its tributaries. Water temperature, pH, and specific conductance were taken with a multiparameter probe. Grab samples were collected to measure total dissolved solids(TDS), alkalinity, several anions (Bromide, Chloride, Sulfate), and several dissolved metals (Magnesium, Calcium, Sodium, Manganese, Aluminum, Iron, Strontium) and are analyzed through a certified lab (PACE Analytical Labs) for consistency. Each chemical parameter serves as an indicator for specific types of pollution and several have established levels for safe drinking water quality.

The measured parameters are believed to be significant indicators of specific types of water pollution including abandoned mine drainage (AMD), deicing salt runoff, and brine water produced from the hydraulic fracturing process for natural gas extraction. Although not toxic by itself, Bromide is considered an indicator for brine water pollution and can create carcinogenic Trihalomethanes when exposed to chlorine at drinking water facilities. Sulfate, on the other hand, is considered an indicator of AMD and has a secondary drinking water standard of 500 mg/L due to its impact of the smell and taste of drinking water.

Many of the sites chosen for continuous sampling are located near major coal fired power plants, brine treatment facilities, and AMD treatment facilities, which can have drastic effects on the ecosystem. Nearby USGS stations produce stream discharge measurements, thereby facilitating conversions of concentrations (in mg/L) to stream loading (in metric ton per day). Our biweekly water quality data will establish current baseline conditions along the Allegheny River and its major tributaries for comparison to past and future data.

Secondary Drinking Water Regulations


Bromide Levels

Bromide Sources: Marcellus Shale water, Steel Mills, Coal-fired Power Plants Issues: Carcinogenic Trihalomethanes (THMs) created when Br exposed to Chlorine and organics in water treatment facilities Could cause problem if used for drinking water.

Bromide Levels

From Data January 2013 through October 2014: Only two sites have not exceeded Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (SDWR) for Bromide. Six sites exceeded the 0.08 mg/L SDWR less than half the time (highlighted in yellow) Seven sites had levels that exceeded 0.08mg/L more than half the time (highlighted in red) All sites on the Allegheny have exceeded SDWR for Br (highlighted in blue) Above Redbank (RD) Bromide is almost undetectable (Data from Iron Furnace Chapter) Blacklick (BL), Conemaugh (C37), and Kiskiminetas (KS) all have high Br and contribute to the Allegheny River before Drinking water intake in Pittsburgh.

Bromide Table

Photos of Sampled Sites

Loyalhanna Creek (LY) Blacklick Creek (BL) Deer Creek (DC)
Loyalhanna Creek (LY) Blacklick Creek (BL) runs orange due to pollution from Abandoned Mine Drainage. Deer Creek (DC) site

Sample from Conemaugh River (C37) Water Samples
Sample from Conemaugh River (C37) Water Samples, before and after filtration, and filter paper from Blacklick Creek. Sample on right is before filtration, sample on left is after filtration.