Message from the Chairman
Welcome to H2O News from the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.
In business for 76 years, MAWC is the trusted water supplier for more than 120,000 drinking water customers and nearly 25,000 wastewater customers in western Pennsylvania. We are particularly pleased to be named the People's Choice winner for the best tasting water for two years running.
Below, you'll see that story along with others about water, how it's used, what we do, and even some lighter topics. If you're interested in more, please visit other pages on this website.
Please don't hesitate to contact us if you would like to give us any feedback.
Table of Contents
For something so essential to daily life, water doesn’t get a lot of credit. But water from the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is a rare exception. It’s been recognized two years in a row with awards for Best Tasting Water by the American Water Works Association, PA Section.
At the 70th Pennsylvania AWWA Conference in Pocono Manor on May 9, water from MAWC’s Indian Creek water treatment plant in Dunbar Township was selected for both the People’s Choice and juried Best of the Best awards.
Last year, water from Beaver Run Reservoir and its George R. Sweeney treatment plant in Bell Township won the People’s Choice Award.
Together, the two plants serve about 107,000 of the authority's more than 120,000 drinking water customers.
But what makes the water taste so good? Much like anything of a high caliber, the quality starts at the source.
At Indian Creek, water from the upper Youghiogheny River is the source for communities in northern Fayette County, southern Westmoreland County and the Forward and Versailles Township areas of Allegheny County. Indian Creek is licensed to treat 40 million gallons of water per day.
Because the intake for Indian Creek is upstream from most human activity on the river, the water needs minimal treatment. Beaver Run Reservoir is protected by regulations that prohibit swimming, fishing or boating. The MAWC implemented a source water protection program at both locations through the state Department of Environmental Protection to protect both sources from contamination issues.
“I would have to say it is one of the most comprehensive strategies I’ve seen,” said Thomas McCaffrey, geologic specialist with the DEP’s Bureau of Safe Drinking Water. “By protecting the quality of one’s source water, it reduces the amount of chemical treatment required in order to produce safe drinking water. Therefore, the fewer the chemicals required in treatment, the better the finished water will taste.”
The George R. Sweeney treatment plant in Bell Township is licensed to produce 24 million gallons of water a day and serves communities mainly north of Route 30 in Westmoreland, Armstrong and Indiana counties.
The municipal authority contracts with Indiana University of Pennsylvania to take samples and measure water quality to ensure the water is protected from natural gas drilling within the Beaver Run watershed.
But protection plans in both watersheds started much earlier than state involvement and gas drilling activity. Authority members from decades past made meticulous calculations to see what they could do to mitigate the effects of now-abandoned mines in the area.
“The forethought of our forebears was very significant,” said MAWC Water Quality Superintendent Mark Stoner. “We have data going back about 40 years.”
McCaffrey said the source water protection programs are a voluntary commitment, which only 80 percent of the community water systems implement to provide cleaner water.
“Studies have indicated that every $1 put towards source water protection saves $20 spent towards remediating a contamination event,” McCaffrey said.
Treating raw water is essential to drinking safe water. Contamination from animals such as ducks and geese, or pollutants such as petroleum and sewage runoff can cause dangerous bacteria to grow in water, Stoner said.
Fortunately for MAWC customers, fewer chemicals are needed to make the pristine water safe to drink.
“It just tastes perfect,” said Stoner. “We don’t under treat the water. We don’t over treat the water. We’re right where we need to be.”
By Alyssa Choiniere
Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County's drinking water distribution system does more than provide clean drinking water – it provides fire protection too, something people may not think about until an emergency.
MAWC crews are behind the scenes every day working with public safety officials to ensure fire hydrants are in working order and ready for an emergency.
“There are a lot of things that go on in the background every day that protect us that we are not aware of,” said Chris Tantlinger, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety.
The authority takes a proactive approach to maintaining more than 8,400 fire hydrants. Since 2014, a four-person crew has made repairs to approximately 800 hydrants, while performing routine maintenance on the rest. Meanwhile, MAWC has mapped all 8,400-plus by GPS coordinates to ensure quick access in an emergency.
“(MAWC) shares and collaborates with 911 and emergency management so we can have information on a timely basis, so we can quickly advise and coordinate with fire chiefs,” Tantlinger said.
On a 911 fire call, a few seconds can make the difference between saving a life or a home, and saving a home can depend on access to water.
The authority’s crews also conduct flow tests to determine how much water a hydrant is producing, which is typically a function of how large a pipe the hydrant is connected to. Those results are relayed to the 911 center.
Without a properly working fire hydrant, firefighters could be unable to extinguish a blaze. The authority checks each hydrant every two years in an organized program, Yackovich said.
The regular inspections include checking that fire hydrants are fully accessible, including all their valves and nozzles, checking lubrication and adding oil or grease as needed, checking for standing water, inspecting for leaks, and flushing the drains. Crew members check for leaks with a listening device. They also install pressure gauges and record the hydrant pressure.
“I would credit my hydrant crew with making this a successful program,” Yackovich said. “They are very knowledgeable in their field as well as hard workers.”
Tantlinger said MAWC is ahead of its time when it comes to public safety. It also operates at a high level to keep the water distribution system secure.
“I know the authority has been way ahead of all those things, way ahead of all of this,” he said.
By Alyssa Choiniere
Sloths see life a little differently than humans, spending most of their lives upside down. Drinking water is no exception. While it may sound like a gravity-defying trick to drink upside down without having water go up your nose, Vivien the 7-month-old two-toed sloth and her sloth friends and family at The National Aviary in Pittsburgh have bodies uniquely designed to perform nearly every life function hanging from a tree.
“When sloths drink, they lick small drops of water off of leaves,” said Jenny Walsh, assistant manager of behavioral management and education at The National Aviary. “They can even lick drops of water that have accumulated on their fur.”
Sloths don’t have to drink much, getting most of the water they need from foods they eat in the rain forest. Most of their diet consists of leaves, shoots, buds and twigs, munching on the trees where they spend most of their time. They aren’t strictly vegan, though. If they happen to find a bird egg, they will eat that, too.
Very young baby sloths lick drops of water from the fur on their mother’s backs, where they spend the first month or two of their lives. Sometimes, they eat green algae that grows in their mothers’ fur in the humid rainforests. Vivien started hanging upside down when she was 20 days old, and she’ll stay that way for most of her life.
“The only time sloths come out of the trees is to go to the bathroom,” Walsh said, and that’s only necessary every seven to 10 days.
Living upside down in the trees is a safe haven for sloths, since they are not built for life on the forest floor. Their best defense right-side up on the ground is similar to a slow-motion army crawl.
“Moving on the ground like this makes them very vulnerable to predators, so they prefer to be up in the tree tops where they can move quickly if necessary,” Walsh said. “However, sloths are extremely good swimmers!”
Like the tree tops, water is a safe haven for sloths, because they can often dodge predators in water. Sloths also use bodies of water for travel, swimming from an old habitat to a new one.
Sloths have connective tissues that keep their organs attached to their hips and ribs, which gives their lungs room to breathe.
“Their fur even grows from their stomach down toward their backs, allowing water to drain off their bodies,” Walsh said.
Vivien loves to meet new people, and the sloth encounter gives her that chance. Groups of up to eight people can visit The National Aviary and interact with Vivien, learning more about her and other sloths with an up-close visit. Guests are allowed to touch her gently on the back and take a photo with her. If she is hungry and interested, guests can even feed her a carrot stick.
By Alyssa Choiniere
What does lasagna have to do with gardening?
According to Master Gardener Coordinator Linda Hyatt at Westmoreland County’s Penn State Extension, the lasagna composting method, also called sheet mulching, is a great way to transform grassy areas into vegetable or flower gardens.
“Sheet mulching is a cold composting method that has been used by people around the world for generations. It’s a great way to convert grass to vegetable and flower gardens. It also helps to improve soil and soil structure and recycle organic material at home,” she said.
It is one of the easiest and simplest methods of composting, she said. It can be used on either a small or large scale, to add to existing garden beds or to improve soil.
The method got its pasta-inspired name for the layers used in the process. To start sheet mulching, place even layers of carbon and nitrogen materials onto the soil. She recommended alternating four to six layers of newspaper or corrugated cardboard, thoroughly soaked, with a nitrogen source like manure. Top that layer with leaves, straw, bark, or other carbon-rich materials. Add another inch of nitrogen, like kitchen scraps, green produce scraps, leaves or a combination of all of them, but avoid using seed heads. Top that with another layer of carbon, like dryer lint, straw, shredded paper or leaves. Continue to add alternating layers until you have a stack between 18 inches and three feet high.
“As these layers decompose, more layers may be added, always ending with a carbon layer,” she said. “This is the layer that will discourage flies from laying eggs on exposed nitrogen material like kitchen scraps. The greater the volume of material, the longer it will take to decompose.”
The layers can be placed on top of grass, killing it. This negates the need to till the lawn. The layers also act to retain water, so less of it seeps through to the water table below.
Hyatt said it can take about six months for the pile to decompose, so it’s best to start the process early, preferably in the fall so the materials can break down slowly over the winter. Then, in the spring, your new nutrient-rich garden bed is ready for planting.
“It’s important to plan ahead,” she said.
For existing gardens, Hyatt gave tips on how to save water.
Watering in the morning saves the most water, because evaporation is minimized in the coolest part of the day, she said.
“That way it is not yet too hot, and also the plants that you are watering will have time to dry off before dark,” she said.
Watering later in the day or in the evening can cause plants to stay wet overnight, which makes them more likely to develop diseases. Water the soil, not the plants, to make sure water is going right where it needs to go. Hyatt recommended trickle irrigation for efficient water usage.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense website recommends checking watering systems for clogs and leaks to prevent water waste. Timing is everything for sprinkler systems, the site says.
“Avoid watering in the middle of the day when the hot sun will evaporate much of the water before it can get to thirsty plants,” the website advises.
By Alyssa Choiniere
Thanks to water-saving conservation messaging to the public, the amount of water the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County customers use every day has decreased dramatically since 2005.
“People have been encouraged, and a generation of people have been raised on conserving water. It’s a valuable resource, so we don’t waste it,” said MAWC Business Manager Brian Hohman.
A study completed every five years by the United States Geological Survey shows people used about 100 gallons of water per day in 2005. In 2010, they used about 89 gallons of water per day, and in 2015, that number had dropped to 82 gallons per day, a total decrease of 18 percent.
Federal plumbing standards implemented in the 1990s played a large part in decreasing water usage nationwide, according to the EPA. Voluntary ENERGY STAR and WaterSense programs also played a role, giving buyers options to go green with their plumbing purchases.
Older toilets used 3.5 to 6 gallons per flush. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 changed the maximum toilet flush volume to 1.6 gallons per flush. The voluntary WaterSense program labels toilets that use no more than 1.28 gallons per flush.
Some toilets bearing the WaterSense label use only 0.8 gallons of water per flush, according to the EPA, and consumers can also look for showerheads, faucets, and irrigation products that have all been tested for performance and water efficiency by WaterSense.
As new homes are built, or outdated toilets, showers, and other plumbing fixtures are replaced, the number of efficient, water-saving fixtures increases, Hohman said.
MAWC customers have followed the trend on water conservation. Between 2005 and March 2018, the average customer used about 11,399 fewer gallons of water per year, according to MAWC’s 12-month average annual usage data. The average usage dropped by nearly 22 percent, with steady decreases of about 1,000 gallons per year since 2005.
Hohman said water savings are the two-fold results of messaging to promote awareness of the importance of water conservation, and plumbing that operates more efficiently.
“I think people are more cognizant of the water that they’re using,’” he said.
While California and other Western states come to mind when thinking about droughts and mandatory conservation, Hohman said he believes people hear the national news on droughts and want to implement conservation changes themselves. Regulatory changes, such as updated plumbing fixtures, are implemented nationwide and reduced water use throughout the country.
Hohman said the positive aspects that conservation has on the environment are of utmost importance. However, water use reduction also creates a financial balancing act when the authority receives less as customers conserve.
"But that's a trade-off we are willing to make," he said.
“There is only so much water, and we need to be good stewards of the resources we have. It’s the most valuable resource, probably other than air. We need water to live, and we need clean water,” Hohman said. “We have to protect that water, whether it’s streams or lakes or underground water.”
Protecting water sources is an individual responsibility, which can start by disposing of trash and other waste properly.
“It’s very important for everybody to do their part, because when water sources are damaged it’s very difficult for them to get cleaned up, and sometimes they never get cleaned up,” he said.
The summer is an important time to think about water conservation, especially when watering lawns and gardens, according to the EPA. It’s especially important during times of drought and during the warmest months when water demand is at its highest because of outdoor water use. When watering outside, sunny afternoon times are inefficient because the water quickly dries up.
For more tips on water conservation, click here.
If you are interested in seeing how the MAWC is putting your rate dollars to work on miles of water line replacements, treatment plant upgrades and other improvements, visit our Leaks & Projects Map.
On the map, you can click each construction icon for a summary of information about the project going on at that location. If you would like to learn more, scroll down and click on the project name to see drawings and descriptions .
By Alyssa Choiniere
If your child is missing a favorite toy, Dave Depetris may have found it -- in the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s wastewater treatment plant.
“Kids are curious what will go down the toilet,” said Depetris, the plant supervisor. “Really, it’s surprising that it gets through the house sewer system.”
Even adults sometimes need a reminder that just because something will go down the toilet or the sink, doesn’t mean it should. Lots of things can clog lateral lines, the lines connecting a home to the main sewer line. If these lines clog, sewage can back up into the home, and it’s the responsibility of the homeowner to pay a plumber and fix the problem.
Hiring a plumber to unclog lateral lines can be costly. And even if these items make it past the lateral lines, customers still pay for the buildup indirectly, because the authority must pay to fix clogs at significant cost.
“People don’t want to do the wrong thing. It’s just that they don’t know,” said Katie Boone, environmental compliance superintendent for MAWC. Click here for a list of what shouldn't go down the toilet.
Some of the most common sewer line stowaways are fats, oils and grease. If these items are poured down the sink, they solidify and cause buildup. Over time, the diameter of the pipes becomes smaller and smaller, allowing less and less water to flow through them. Instead of dumping fats, oils and grease in the sink, pour them in a can and throw them away. This goes for restaurants too -- MAWC established a Don’t Flush or Dump program for fats, oils and grease, which provides posters and grease catchers at many local restaurants.
Coffee grinds and eggshells also cause problems, turning into a gritty substance as they make their way through the system. Instead of scraping dirty plates into the sink, Boone said to scrape them into the trash, and then rinse them. Depetris said diapers are also found often in the treatment plant. Pharmaceutical products, like expired medicine, are another common problem, because some medicines are difficult to remove from water.
But one of the worst things to flush are so-called “disposable or flushable” wipes. “I’m most adamant about the wipes. They call them flushable. In our business, they’re really not flushable,” Boone said.
Wipes labeled “flushable” literally can be flushed down the toilet, they aren’t biodegradable. Unlike toilet paper, which disintegrates, wipes go down the toilet and get stuck somewhere down the line, causing clogs, sometimes backing up sewage into your home.
Other items that should never go down the drain include paper towels, cotton balls and cotton swabs, feminine hygiene products, condoms, hair or shavings, trash, cigarette butts, kitty litter, tissues, floss, and bandages.
By Alyssa Choiniere
Lawns and gardens can get dry this time of year. When Mother Nature falls short on the water supply and you're making up for the shortfall with hoses or irrigation systems, you should know that water can flow both ways through pipes and hoses -- potentially bringing old dirty water or worse back into the drinking water system.
But there are inexpensive ways to protect yourself, says Brian Preski, Vice President of Pennsylvania Water Specialties Company.
When water main breaks occur and municipalities issue a boil water notice, it’s usually because backflow may have occurred, and non-potable water may be in the water system. While this is a concern in any water system, MAWC has done more than any other system in Pennsylvania, requiring commercial and industrial customers to install testable backflow prevention devices.
Backflow, which can cause potential hazards in drinking water, is common, but you can do something to protect yourself.
Adding a hose bibb or vacuum breaker is one way to prevent backflow into residential water supplies, according to the Public Water Supply Manual issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on cross-connection control and backflow protection.
Hose bibbs are sold for about $16 to $22, depending on the size. Vacuum breakers, adaptors for the hose bibbs, are sold for about $16 to $35 in the residential range.
Hose bibbs and vacuum breakers are available at any hardware or plumbing supply store.
As an authority, the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is a cost-based system, meaning we don't operate for profit. We reinvest ratepayers money to maintain and upgrade the water and wastewater systems.
Also, we're members of the community. Decisions made about your water supply are made locally.