June 2020 Newsletter

H2O News

Welcome to another edition of Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County's Newsletter.

There are a number of stories below on a variety of topics, but the coronavirus has been at the forefront of worldwide news.

We know that when it comes to battling the coronavirus, water for washing hands is foremost in the fight.

As many people were told to shelter in place and stop reporting to work, water companies around the nation and the world carried on their duties while working to protect employees, and the companies’ capability to provide ongoing service, even if some employees became ill.

At MAWC, workers and the continuity of your service continue to be protected by enhanced disinfection procedures, masks and social distancing. A platoon system of employees was also used at the height of the emergency. The system both reduced the density of employees in the office, and separated crews so that one sickness wouldn’t interrupt operations.

Today, most employees are back to work on a daily basis, aside from a few that still rotate to allow social distancing in an office environment.

While the danger from coronavirus remains with us, MAWC has been drilling and planning for years for continuity of service provisions – working to ensure that water and wastewater services continue in the face of varied disasters.

“Our planning and dedicated employees have worked through difficult conditions for months, and we’ll continue to do what it takes to ensure our customers remain in service,” said MAWC Resident Manager Michael F. Kukura.


Table of Contents:

Clean Your Aerators To Improve Your Water Quality

MAWC Renting Goats to Eliminate Invasive Species

MAWC Water 'Excellent' for Brewing

Craft Breweries Booming in MAWC’s Service Area

Brewing Basics for Aspiring Home Brewers

Q&A With MAWC’s Laura Blood

How to Get Your Pool Chemistry Right on the First Try

Source Water Protection


Sneaky Slime and Grit: Clean Your Aerators To Improve Your Water Quality

By Alyssa Choiniere

No matter how well you think you did on your spring cleaning this year, there may be one place you missed.

One of the most commonly overlooked places to clean is right on your faucet – the aerator. An aerator is the part at the end of a faucet that reduces water pressure and volume. Over time, it can collect gunk which can affect your water quality.

Mark Stoner, the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s Water Quality Superintendent, said cleaning out aerators is one of his most common pieces of advice.

“When an aerator is dirty, they can produce film that looks like small worms. It’s actually biofilm growing behind the screen of the aerator,” he said.

“It shoots out what looks like worms. (Customers) don’t like that very much,” he said, understatedly.

The aerator stays wet all the time, so it’s a great place for bacteria to thrive. The faucet may begin to grow black or pink slime inside without regular cleanings.

“It’s something that gets highly overlooked. You buy a faucet, and you don’t expect any maintenance goes into a faucet,” he said.

It’s easy to take the aerator off and simply wash it off. He suggested cleaning the aerator every six to nine months.

“I get quite a few of those calls. I suggest it to almost everyone who has that problem. It’s fairly common to have those kind of issues,” Stoner said.

The second possible reason for seeing “worms” or grit from a faucet is a broken aerator screen. It could also be caused by grit trapped in the water line, meter, or hot water tank. Hot water tanks also need to be cleaned once or twice per year, he said, because they collect sediment over time.

“I’d say it’s fairly common. It’s certainly a proactive step that should be followed by most homeowners,” he said.

“If a person calls the water authority about grit in the water and a dirty aerator or hot water tank isn’t the culprit, a service person will come check out the problem. It could be caused by sediment in the meter. That usually happens if there are water pressure problems in the home”, he said.


MAWC Renting Goats to Eliminate Invasive Species at 5,000-Acre Reservoir

Goat tasting invasive species

By Alyssa Choiniere

Yes, you read that right. The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is renting goats.

M. Sweeney Enterprises, the growing goat rental service owned by Mike Sweeney, is loaning his goats to MAWC to mow down an invasive species at the Beaver Run Reservoir, which feeds the George R. Sweeney Water Treatment Plant.

Laura Blood, the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s Source Water Supervisor, is working on a project to regenerate the forest surrounding the Beaver Run Reservoir. They’ve run into some obstacles, partially due to deer munching on tree saplings, and partially due to an invasive species – lespedeza -- killing them off. That’s where the goats come in.

“They will eat just about anything, plant-wise,” Sweeney said. “But they don’t eat tin cans. I’m sorry. It’s an old wives tale. They don’t do that.”

Sweeney, a relative of the plant’s namesake, first rented goats to the Norwin School District through his business, Nuisance Wildlife Solutions of North Huntingdon. Since then, the service has taken off, and he has started another company to handle the surge in business.

“I’ve been getting calls from all over the state about using the goats,” he said.

The specifics of the project and process are to be determined.

“That all depends on the goats,” he said.

The first step was bringing some samples home for the goats to taste, and the appetizers were a success.

“I did a test run with it on the goats, and they just seemed to love it,” he said.

Goats, he explains, are browsers. Cattle, in contrast, are grazers. They mow pastureland down and clip it. On the other hand, goats eat the entire stem of a plant, picking the leaves off. Removing the leaves of a plant kills it because plants need leaves for photosynthesis. That makes goats helpful for killing off species like poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. The chemicals that cause a rash for humans have no effect on a goat.

Now that the goats have expressed their taste for lespedeza, the next step is fencing out a small area and letting the goats get to work. Meanwhile, Sweeney tends to his herd, giving them electrolytes and water and anything else to make sure their nutritional needs are being met. For MAWC, it’s an innovative solution to a pervasive problem.

“It’s very, very green. It’s about as green as you can get,” he said.

Ms. Blood said MAWC could treat the invasive species with herbicide, but that could create a new problem – runoff into the water source.

“There’s more advantage to using the goats on it than an herbicide,” Sweeney said.

While renting goats to clear out an invasive species isn’t a common-knowledge solution to a common problem, Sweeney said he wasn’t the first person to come up with it. In the South, where the invasive species tends to thrive naturally, goats are often used to clear out the plant. Ms. Blood used goat rental data from another facility in Iowa to inform her plans.

Sweeney said the project is in its infancy, and will take baby steps to bring it to completion. He is optimistic about the solution, however.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said.


MAWC Water 'Excellent' for Brewing

Sean Kinnas won a gold medal in the 2018 National Homebrew Competition for his Imperial Stout, which is brewed with MAWC water.

“MAWC has absolutely excellent water for brewing,” he said. “The Indian Creek System and Beaver Run systems (my water is a blend of those) are low alkalinity, low calcium, and generally low mineral overall. Perfect for brewing with minimal adjustments required.” 

Kinnas started home brewing in 2005. He’s also a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) National Judge and won a Gold Medal in the 2018 National Homebrew Competition. Kinnis is a founding member of the Westmoreland Area Zymology Enthusiasts (WAZE), and a long-time member of Pittsburgh-based Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers (TRASH).

MAWC’s Water Quality Superintendent Mark Stoner said he’s been getting an increasing number of calls from craft brewers and microbreweries for water quality reports, so they can perfect their recipes.

He said one person called to see a report after making a beer and wanted to replicate it.

“He said it was the best beer he ever made, and he wanted to try to mimic that,” Stoner said, and added, “There wasn’t anything spectacularly different about that time period.”

Stoner said subtle differences in water can have a big effect on a brew.

“Chemicals can react with brewing chemicals and either make the brew better or worse, depending on those levels,” he said.

Kinnas said chlorine and chloramine must be removed from water before brewing.

“Brewing with chlorine or chloramine can result in off-flavors best described as ‘Chloraseptic throat spray’ and ‘taste like a Band-Aid smells,’” he said. “Chlorine and Chloramine are easy to remove.  A single Campden tablet contains enough Potassium Metabisulfite (K-Meta) to remove the chlorine from up to 20 gallons of water. Campden tablets or K-meta powder can be purchased cheaply at any beer or wine-making supply store.”

Bloom said he uses a water filtration system, which sifts out iron oxide. He said MAWC’s water is great for brewing, and he doesn’t have to do much.

“Basically, the water comes in at a pH that’s within the threshold for the brewing process. I really don’t have to make that many water adjustments,” he said.

Robert Buchanan said his business partner and Allusion’s brewer, John Bieranoski, always pays close attention to the water quality reports.

“That is something you’re very mindful of. Depending on what time you’re going to brew, different factors can have a positive or adverse effect on that brew cycle,” he said.

He said brewing supply stores have products to remove chlorine, or other chemicals in the water.

“Water quality is really important to research to have good quality beer,” he said. “John is brewing all our water with (MAWC) water, and it’s turned out just fine.”

MAWC Service Area Breweries and Distilleries *

All Saints Brewery

Route 119 and Roseytown Rd.

Greensburg, PA 15601

724-289-1202

Allusion Brewing Company

143 Grant Ave.

Vandergrift, PA 15690

Bloom Brew

100 Riverside Dr. Suite A

West Newton, PA 15089

724-322-4494

Country Hammer Moonshine

8855 Norwin Ave., Suite. 20

Irwin, PA 15642

Crooked Creek Distillery

104 S. Water St.

West Newton, PA 15089

Devout Brewery

101, 1301 Pontiac Ct., #101

Export, PA 15632

724-575-7570

Four Seasons Brewery

745 Lloyd Ave. Ext.

Latrobe, PA 15650

724-520-4111

Helltown Brewing

5578 Old William Penn Highway

Export, PA 15632

724-519-8354

Full Pint Brewing

1963 Lincoln Hwy.

North Versailles, PA 15137

412-467-6414

Fury Brewing

13380 US-30

Irwin, PA 15642

724-826-5162

Invisible Man Brewing

132 S. Pittsburgh Ave.

Greensburg, PA 15601

724-205-6003

Laurel Highlands Meadery

106 4th St.

Irwin, PA 15642

724-249-6323

Mad Scientist Beer

990 N. Main St.

Greensburg, PA 15601

724-834-3326

New Crescent Brewing

229 Main St.

Irwin, PA 15642

724-515-2974

Quinn Brewing

3000 Commerce Loop, Suite 3200

Irwin, PA 15642

724-590-5916

Sobel’s Obscure Brewery

500 Clay Ave.

Jeannette, PA 15644

412-525-1553

Voodoo Brewery

956 5th Ave.

New Kensington, PA 15068

West Overton Distilling

109 W. Overton Rd.

Scottdale, PA 15683

724-887-7910

Yellow Bridge Brewery

2266 PA-66

Delmont, PA 15626

724-300-3922

*Listing subject to change and does not imply product endorsement


Craft Breweries Booming in MAWC’s Service Area

By Alyssa Choiniere

A few years after Jeff Bloom’s wife bought him his first home brewing kit, he opened his own craft brewery.

Bloom Brew in West Newton is located on the banks of the Youghiogheny River, with a concept of pairing craft beer with food trucks and live music.

“Basically, it all started when my wife bought me a beer kit, and I brewed a batch. I guess it wasn’t too bad for the first time around. Basically, I got hooked after that. I just started to buy more and more brewing items with the hopes of brewing better beer,” he said. “It got to the point where I was taking over space in my house. I started basically moving all my brewing equipment into where our dining room would be. I just got really into it.”

He and his friend started brewing together every weekend. Before craft brewing became hugely popular, they were taking their beer to small-scale tastings with 25 to 30 people.

“Pretty soon, we were brewing at events where there were hundreds of people, and we also started making friends in the industry,” he said.

One of those was Chris Dilla, the founder of Bocktown Beer and Grill in Pittsburgh. She said she would support him if he decided to start his own brewery.

At that time, Bloom had set up shelving in his house, expanded into other rooms, and renamed the dining room his brewery. His wife got her dining room back when he opened Bloom Brew.

“She’s super patient with everything that I do,” he said.

They’re open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He invites food trucks to his business, and hosts live music from May through October. During the coronavirus pandemic, Bloom Brew sold beer cans and growlers and brought live music back June 5.

“I absolutely love to brew beer. I love to come up with new recipes, and I liked to have the creativity of it,” he said.

They’re a 2 barrel brewhouse with 24 beers on tap, and Bloom Brew is best known for its sour beers. Sour beers are made with fruit, and brewed for an extended amount of time in oak barrels. He has 15 to 20 barrels dedicated for sour beers, which take 16 to 20 months to brew. He usually has four or five sour beers on tap.

“You can have something that’s only mildly tart up to mouth-watering, blow your head off sour,” he said.

Allusion Brewing Company

Allusion Brewing Company, opening in Vandergrift, also started with a beer kit.

Robert Buchanan learned his friend and business partner, John Bieranoski, had aspirations to open his own brewery during conversations about their career goals.

“I came to find out he had a lifelong dream for owning a brewery,” Buchanan said. “I just kind of nudged him in the right direction and ordered him a beer kit.”

He perfected his recipes, and with the feedback the beer received in 2016, Buchanan told Bieranoski he thought it was time to take the next step.

“I said, ‘I think we’re making the quality product to take the next step, opening a brewery, and making your career aspirations a reality,’” he said.

They planned to open in the spring, but the coronavirus pandemic set back their process. Despite the setback, they still expect to open this year. At Allusion, Buchanan handles the business side of things and Bieranoski handles the brewing.

Buchanan said their best beer is a brown ale.

“It’s out of this world. It’s one of the best brown ales I’ve had in the craft beer world,” Buchanan said. “He is so meticulous as a brewer, and that leads to high-quality beer.”

A good craft beer comes from a combination of factors, including clean, solid flavors, color, clarity, aroma, mouthfeel, and aftertaste.

“The way John approaches brewing is he controls as many of those aspects as possible,” he said. “There’s just so much research he puts into his recipes to get his beers to be as close to what he wants it to be as possible.”


Brewing Basics for Aspiring Home Brewers

By Alyssa Choiniere

According to local craft brewers, home brewing can be as basic or as complicated as you want it to be.

“Brewing can seem complicated at first, but at its simplest, it’s like boxed mac and cheese,” said local homebrewer Sean Kinnas. “If you can make boxed mac and cheese and clean up the kitchen afterward, you have the necessary skills to brew a batch of beer, or mead or cider or wine.”

Kinnas started home brewing in 2005. He’s also a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) National Judge and won a Gold Medal in the 2018 National Homebrew Competition. Kinnis is a founding member of the Westmoreland Area Zymology Enthusiasts (WAZE), and a long-time member of Pittsburgh-based Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers (TRASH).

“Start with a recipe kit for your first batch,” he said. “Recipe kits are the boxed mac and cheese of homebrewing. A kit will contain nearly all the ingredients needed as well as detailed, step-by-step instructions.  Usually, you’ll just need to pick a yeast, and often there is one recommended.”

Collin Azinger, who is also a member of WAZE, suggested starting out with something simple. His first beer was a simple American pale ale.

“I would recommend that to anyone starting out!” he said. “The best advice on the brewing side is be patient, sanitize everything properly and enjoy the hobby!”

He said he started brewing on a whim while he was in college, and he immediately got hooked.

“My senior year at Pitt, I took a brewing course offered in the chemical engineering curriculum, refined my knowledge and skills and never looked back,” he said. “I’ve been brewing for three years now, and I love it more every time I brew!”

Jeff Bloom of Bloom Brew in West Newton said the brewing process can be simple or complex, depending on how deeply a person wants to get involved with the science.

“I’m sort of one of those guys -- I dive in deep. I try to read as much as I can and do the research beforehand,” he said. “I’m a trial-and-error guy. I take notes with everything.”

He said brewers can start with a homebrewing kit and see how well they like it. It’s easy to make a basic beer with the kits, he said.

“It can start out with some basic information, and it can get pretty complicated if you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be initially,” he said. “There’s a ton of science behind it, and that can get a little bit dry. But just to improve your product, you have to dig into the science of it a little bit.”

Robert Buchanan of Allusion Brewing Company, on the other hand, said to avoid generic beer kits. He said they can be discouraging because even though they are easy to use, the end result leaves something to be desired. He did, however, highly recommend homebrewing to anyone who wants to try it.

“I highly suggest anybody that’s curious about it, try it out. It is actually a lot of fun,” he said.

He suggested conducting research, reading books and talking to employees at craft beer supply stores for tips and advice.

Kinnas recommends “How to Brew” by John Palmer, “Mastering the Art of Homebrew,” by Randy Mosher, “Radical Brewing” by Randy Mosher and “Brewing Classic Styles” by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer. He also recommended the homebrew supply shops, Brilharts Hardware in Scottdale, Vite e Vino in Derry, and morebeer.com in Ambridge, PA.

All of the brewers lauded the beer community, and said other brewers are helpful in offering tips and suggestions.

“Join a homebrew club, even if you haven’t brewed your first batch yet. You’ll meet other brewers who will be happy to try your beer and offer constructive advice,” Kinnas said, and recommended WAZE.

Bloom also recommended WAZE.

“If you’re home brewing and you’re having trouble with something, you can throw out a question and two seconds later, you have an answer to it,” he said.

He said anyone who is interested in turning their homebrew operation into a business can also lean on the brewing community.

“It’s a pretty good community of people that are willing to share their experiences and expertise, so it’s worth your time to spend some time,” he said.

Bloom said before he opened his brewery, he visited other breweries of all sizes to decide how he wanted to run his business.

“If you’re really ready to take that leap as a homebrewer, to really get into this, you just sort of have to do it on your own terms,” he said.


Q&A With MAWC’s Laura Blood

Laura Blood stepped into the newly created position of Source Water Protection Manager when she joined the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s team in August. Not only is she in charge of protecting the water of all MAWC customers, but she’s also involved with outreach, teaching and community involvement.

Ms. Blood's post-graduate studies in biology and wetland ecology led her to become fascinated with the study of water. She went on to teach in New York and West Virginia before landing a job at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and finally brought her decades of experience to MAWC.

Ms. Blood's job can take her a variety of places. She has spent workdays renting and wrangling goats to feast on invasive species around the Beaver Run Reservoir, and she has picked the winner of a science fair. She also coordinates water sampling, works with gas drilling companies to perform site inspections every month and responds to any emergency situations, like reported spills.

For Ms. Blood, the relentless pursuit of knowledge has been a key component of her career. She gets a rush out of solving difficult problems and tackling new projects. Patience is also key, and she keeps a sticker with that reminder in her line of sight whenever she’s working.

  1. How long have you worked for the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, and how long have you worked as the source water supervisor?

I have worked as the source water supervisor at MAWC since August 2019.

  1. What are your primary duties and responsibilities?

As MAWC’s source water supervisor, I will engage communities of both place and interest to preserve, protect, and improve water quality through shared goals and actions in order to provide an ample, clean, and affordable water supply, which is our mission statement. The main pillars of the source water protection program include water quality, public outreach, emergency/incident response, and land use management. I help to coordinate raw water sampling along the Youghiogheny River and the Beaver Run reservoir. 

Matthew Junker and I coordinate public outreach for internal staff, municipalities, stakeholder groups, and students. I am also involved in several regional and national initiatives to improve and share source water protection knowledge. I coordinate with our emergency responders to improve communication and our ability to react quickly to potential spills. I work alongside our security and forest management staff to develop land use best management practices to reduce erosion and improve water quality within our source water protection areas.

  1. Where did you get your start in your career?

My interest in water started while pursuing a Master’s degree in biology. My focus was on wetland ecology, and I followed up with two scientific journal articles on forested swamp ecology. I spent 12 years teaching and consulting in New York and West Virginia.

After moving to Pennsylvania, I accepted a position with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Safe Drinking Water Program and conducted sanitary survey and filter plant performance inspections at drinking water treatment plants for the next 8 years.

Source water protection combined my field work, public outreach, consulting project management, and safe drinking water regulatory experience into one package.

      4.   How did you become interested in this type of work?

I’ve been interested in pieces of source water protection since college, however, it wasn’t until I was approached about becoming MAWC’s Source Water Supervisor that I learned and became very excited about a more unified approach to water management called “One Water.”

Water is related to every part of our lives and should be managed as a whole cyclic system. The six interrelated categories of the One Water approach include reliable and resilient water utilities, thriving cities, competitive business and industry, sustainable agricultural systems, social and economic inclusion, and healthy waterways.

I believe that exciting innovations can come from the overlap of seemingly unrelated topics. I always seek to keep learning and try to make those connections.

      5.   What is a typical day like for you?

I don’t know if my day has become typical yet. Much of my day is spent coordinating meetings and phone calls. In one day, I coordinated sample bottle delivery for our Beaver Run tributary samples, touched base with a local university about the logistics involved with our invasive control/tree seedling study (and goat rental) at Beaver Run. I also worked with a group of experts who are jointly writing a journal article which provides guidance to water treatment plants on how to coordinate with their local emergency planning committees.

     6.    Who do you work with and oversee, and what projects or work do you oversee?

Although my title says supervisor, I do not oversee the work of any other staff. My job success, however, depends on collaboration with other staff. I work with the water quality specialists from each water treatment plant, as well as the production supervisors. I also work closely with our security and land management staff.

There are several projects that I am currently overseeing. MAWC’s water treatment plants will be one of several utilities along the Ohio River basin creating a source water contaminant inventory. This will help improve communication among our upstream and downstream partners and allow us to have updated information on potential sources of contamination. We use this information to prioritize management objectives within the source water protection areas. I oversee all the tributary and reservoir sampling along the Youghiogheny River and the Beaver Run reservoir.

     7.     What is your favorite part of your job?

I think my favorite part of the job so far is its diversity. I’m always doing something slightly different and learning something new. This can be challenging but very rewarding.

     8.     What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue this type of career?

I would highly recommend that a person who would like to pursue source water protection be organized, well versed in Excel, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), data analytics, drinking water treatment, wastewater treatment, and project management. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively to diverse audiences is a must.

I think it’s also very important for a person involved in source water protection to relentlessly pursue knowledge, be a good listener, and be patient.

    9.     What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

            I think that identifying obstacles is a huge strength and key to success of any project. I get a lot of satisfaction from being able to solve problems and come up with solutions that are beneficial to diverse stakeholder groups.

   10.    What do you see as some of your biggest accomplishments so far?

While I haven’t had any accomplishment that I would consider my own, I can say that I am very proud of the development and implementation of our incident/spill reporting form and procedures. While there are still processes that I would like to streamline, I believe this improvement has greatly increased communication and transparency.

   11.    What are some things you have learned so far in your time with MAWC?

I am spoiled rotten. The George R Sweeney water treatment plant, where my office is located, has the best view and the best food. I’ve learned that patience is a very undervalued characteristic that is so powerful when you are on the receiving end. I now keep a sticker with the word “patience” in my eye line while I work.

   12.     Do you have any favorite mottos or words to live by?

            Communication, Connection, Collaboration.  Communication is the ignition that fuels any endeavor. Finding connections to diverse topics and audiences is also key to holding a group together and moving toward a common goal. Strength is built from collaboration.


How to Get Your Pool Chemistry Right on the First Try

By Alyssa Choiniere

The summer season is finally here! With many normal summer activities in limbo due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, opening a home swimming pool just got a whole lot more tempting.

If you’re opening a swimming pool, aquarium, or pond this year, start with the source when you’re getting to know your pool chemistry. The most important thing to find out about your water is whether the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is using chlorine or chloramines for disinfectant. This information is posted regularly on our website.

“Obviously, follow the guidance of the pool stores,” said Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s Water Quality Superintendent Mark Stoner. “Know the difference between chlorine residual or chloramine residual.”

On June 15, MAWC will switch from free chlorine to chloramine disinfectant treatment. We plan to keep using chloramines throughout most of the summer. In late summer or fall, we will switch back to free chlorine disinfectant treatment. MAWC gives a 90-day notice when switching to chloramines and a 30-day notice when switching to chlorine.

Water Quality Superintendent Mark Stoner said he sometimes gets calls from customers who need help understanding their pool chemistry. Typically, the solution is to add more of the chemicals they have already added. When opening a pool for the first time, it can take a huge amount of chemicals to balance the pool chemistry – more than people typically expect, he said.

“People say, ‘I dumped a whole bunch in.’ Well, it wasn’t quite enough yet,” he said.

High phosphate levels can cause algae growth, so it’s important to make sure the phosphate levels are in the normal range. Before you start adjusting for high phosphate, make sure it’s not a bad test reading, Stoner said.

A common issue is that chloramines can show false phosphate levels in a pool. Some people call Stoner, saying their pool chemistry showed extremely high phosphate levels. The phosphate levels may not be high at all, but the chloramines might make a test appear as though they are. He said most pool stores within MAWC’s service area know about the false-high readings for phosphates, but occasionally, customers still say their phosphate levels were reading extremely high because of chloramines sending false signals in the tests.

“Pool stores typically are able to help them with that,” Stoner said. “All pools in the service area should understand that and know that.”

In testing your pool chemistry, you’ll need to look at the pH, alkalinity, calcium hardness, cyanuric acid, and chlorine. You might need to increase the alkalinity, increase or decrease the pH, increase the calcium hardness, decrease the calcium hardness with muriatic acid or add chlorine. Most pool startup kits come with chemical kits to do all of this. They include powerful chlorine shock, a stain prevention product, a non-metallic algaecide, a clarifier, and Sun Sorb. Basic pool chemistry kits treat up to 7,500-gallon pools, while deluxe kits can treat up to 15,000 gallons, and super kits can treat up to 30,000 gallons.

The ideal levels are a pH of 7.2-7.8, total alkalinity of 80-120 ppm, calcium hardness of 180-220 ppm and cyanuric acid, or stabilizer, of 30-50 ppm. Chlorine levels should remain constant in the 1-3 ppm range.

The good news, Stoner said, is once you have your pool chemistry levels balanced for the first time, it won’t take nearly as much work to keep it balanced year after year. While you’ll need to check your pool chemistry regularly, and making adjustments to it after sitting dormant through the winter, most of the work is done after you open the pool for the first time.


Forestation, Plant Populations and Partnerships all go into MAWC’s Source Water Protection

By Alyssa Choiniere

The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is so dedicated to its water quality that it created a new position focused on source water protection.

Laura Blood was hired as the Source Water Supervisor in August 2019, after years working with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies. Now, she’s bringing her skills to MAWC, focusing on areas like increasing forestation to maintain the highest possible water quality and working alongside drilling companies.

Her biggest focus areas are in those spots where MAWC owns the most property – the Beaver Run Reservoir and the Mill Run Reservoir. The Beaver Run Reservoir feeds into the George R. Sweeney Water Treatment Plant, and Ms. Blood noted there was a problem with the deer population there. Since no hunting is allowed, deer have been munching on tree seedlings, preventing their growth.

“Studies that have shown you start to see impact if the forest is less than 60 percent,” she said.

Right now, the forest canopy coverage is about 55 percent at Beaver Run, and they’d like to get it to 65 percent.

“We’re in the very early stages of determining if we want to permit some guided hunting to help control the deer population and let the trees grow,” she said.

Another solution they’re working on is goats (see goat story above) to eat an invasive species called lespedeza, which has been strangling the tree seedlings. 

“That’s to see if we can do something other than use herbicide,” she said.

MAWC is also partnering with a student and biology professor to study how long it takes lespedeza to grow back and how well the tree seedlings do after the goats cull the invasive species.

If all goes well, she plans to do about two treatments on the property with the goats. She wants to give the tree seedlings about 2 or 3 years to grow, so they are hardy enough to withstand the invasive species and the deer.

Ms. Blood also works with conservation groups in the area of the reservoirs. Those include the Mountain Watershed Association, which works to protect the Indian River and Youghiogheny River Watershed. She’s also working with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to create a no-mow zone, which would create more forested area but still allow fishing spots.

“That would prevent any erosion and any sediment from getting into the reservoir,” she said.

She also works with natural gas drilling companies to prevent drilling sites from having any impact on the source water.

“We’re trying to make sure that the well drilling doesn’t have any impact to the Beaver Run Reservoir, and if something does happen, that we can do things to respond,” she said.

She performs monthly site inspections of the drill sites, following a checklist to ensure there is no evidence of a spill, and performs safety checks.

“Communication is something we are always striving to improve to ensure that our drinking water sources are protected,” she said.

They’re also looking at long-term trends, examining data from 1953 to 2015 to see if there were any changes to the water since wells were placed in 2010 and 2011. These could be changes in temperature or pH. MAWC also works with the Indiana University of Pennsylvania to perform sampling at 24 sites within the Beaver Run Reservoir Watershed to ensure there is no contamination. They’re taking samples from the tributary itself in June.