River Water Quality & Data

RAIN and Safeguarding Your Drinking Water

In the context of RAIN's mission and what we do, it's important to be aware of the essential missions of both the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- and why these missions relate to public water suppliers, AND your drinking water or source water safeguards.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the main federal law that ensures the quality of Americans' drinking  water - your drinking water. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the US Environmental protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for your drinking water quality throughout our country, and oversees the states, localities, and water suppliers who implement those standards. The EPA mission is to protect human health and the environment. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) mission is to protect Pennsylvania's air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment. DEP will work as partners with individuals, organizations, governments and businesses to prevent pollution and restore our natural resources.

When Congress writes an environmental law that applies to the protection of your drinking water and/or your family's source water safeguards, the EPA implements it by writing regulations. Often, they set national standards that Pennsylvania enforces through its own regulations. If Pennsylvania should fail in meeting the national standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA can help. The EPA also enforces federal regulations, and help companies understand the requirements; and/or its purpose is to ensure that:

  • all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work;
  • national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information;
  • federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively;
  • environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy;
  • all parts of society -- communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments -- have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks; and
  • environmental protection contributes to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive.

All of the RAIN monitoring sites monitor for specific conductance and pH. pH is an indication of the alkalinity or acidity ranked on a logarithmic scale from 1.0 to 14.0. Acidity increases as pH gets lower: a water sample of 6.0 is 10 times more acidic than a water sample of 7.0. Normal river pH is between 6.5 to 8.5. Water acidity can be increased by acid mine discharges, industrial discharges, and acid rain.

Why monitor for pH?

Monitoring the pH can quickly detect any intentional or unintentional events that have occurred to the source water.

Specific conductance is the term used in hydrogeology to refer to the conductivity of surface or groundwater and is expressed in micro Siemens per centimeter. Specific Conductance is a direct function of the total dissolved solids (TDS) in the water, and RAIN uses specific conductance in order to approximate the amount of TDS in the river. TDS in the river consists of: calcium, chlorides, nitrate, phosphorus, iron, sulfur and other ion particles. Sources of TDS include: industrial discharges, sewage, fertilizers, natural gas wastewater, road runoff, and soil erosion.

Some RAIN monitoring sites collect additional water quality parameters. Turbidity is a measure of the suspended solids in the water, including silts, clays, organic and inorganic matter, industrial wastes, sewage and plankton.

Dissolved oxygen (DO) in water comes from the atmosphere through rain, tumbling water over dams, and photosynthesis. Rivers with high levels of DO are usually regarded as healthy and stable eco-systems capable of supporting different kinds of water life. Effluent and agricultural fertilizers enrich the water and stimulate algal growth causing fluctuations in the DO levels in the water. Sewage effluent also promotes large populations of aerobic bacteria which use oxygen as they decompose organic matter.

Why monitor Turbidity?

Turbidity indicates the cloudiness or amount of suspended material in source water. The higher the turbidity the greater the impact on the disinfection process efficiency. The particles can shield or encapsulate harmful pathogens and prevent them from reacting with the disinfectant being used. A sudden increase in source water turbidity can indicate that a major change in source water quality has occurred.