Bromide in the Allegheny River System

Before April 2011, it was acceptable to discharge Marcellus brines into rivers. Therefore, brines were discharged to some PA rivers through publicly operated treatment works (POTW) and industrial waste plants (IWP). However, many larger rivers in PA are used for drinking water after treatment with chlorinated compounds. Brines from shale gas wells contain dissolved bromide at concentrations up to 2,000,000 ppb and bromide can react with the chlorinated disinfectants and with other natural compounds in the river to make brominated disinfection byproducts (BDB) which can be carcinogenic.
In 2010, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority observed an increase in concentration of bromide-containing species in their water from the Allegheny River after they treated it for drinking . We will explore the bromide in the Allegheny River and where it comes from (Figure 1) using data published in the Shale Network public database of water quality. We use HydroClient to find these data: HydroClient was built by the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI), a non-profit funded by the National Science Foundation, as a tool to find water quality data from entities like Shale Network, along with bigger groups such as the US Geological Survey and NASA.

Conceptual Outcomes

Students will be asked to think critically, analyze data, and synthesize information
Student will learn how disposed brine impacts surface water quality in Pennsylvania

Practical Outcomes

Time Required

Computing/Data Inputs

Computing/Data Outputs

Hardware/Software Required


The first thing we will do is get a file from HydroShare and upload it into HydroClient. This will allow us to see some of the sites in the Allegheny River system where waste is discharged, to track down bromide sources in the river.

Getting a File from HydroShare

· Open up Internet Explorer. To do this, type in “Internet Explorer” into the bar at the bottom left of the screen and click on it. It should open up after clicking.

· Type into the browser and click on it – it should open up.

· Click Discover (located at the top of the page — you don’t have to sign in).

· Type Industrial Plants PA in the search box and click on the title Industrial Plants PA. You should see a page that contains an Abstract, Subject, and information on how to cite the data.

· Scroll down the page to the Content section.

· Click on the little file icon and click Download All Content as Zipped Bagit Archive.

· Wait a moment. An orange message should appear at the bottom of your screen asking if you want to open or save the folder. Click “Open”. A zip file folder should appear (depending on your browser). Click to “Open” the folder (do NOT click save), click on “Data”, click on “Contents”. You should then see the file “industrial plants”.

· Right click on the “industrial_plants” file and select “Copy”. Now, minimize all the windows until you can see your desktop: click on your desktop screen and paste the file on your desktop.

Opening HydroClient

· Find the browser again and open up HydroClient by typing and clicking

· Once it is open, click Layer Control.

· In the popup, Click Add GeoJSON.

· Click on Browse, and click on Desktop (right-side panel of the pop-up window) and navigate to the file you saved in the previous step by going to your Desktop. If you do not see the file, use the Search Desktop search box in the top right of the pop up and type “industrial_plants”, click on the drop-down option, and click Open. The markers should appear on the map as shown at right.


The red balloons identify possible waste sources into the Allegheny River system.The zoom buttons, located in the top left corner under the search box, allow you to adjust the map extent. The “+” sign allows you to zoom in and the “-” allows you to zoom out of the map. (Alternately, you can use the roller on the mouse to scroll in or out.) Increase the magnification and navigate to Pennsylvania and the Allegheny system. You can click on each red marker and a pop up will appear with information: IWP — Industrial Waste Plant, PP — Power Plant, SP — Steel plant, and POTW — Publicly Operated Treatment Works.

We will now navigate around the Allegheny River system and try to find bromide concentrations upriver and downriver from the different possible pollution sources. Use the instructions below to get concentrations. We suggest you use the schematic Allegheny River in Figure 1 (below) to help navigate, and write down the bromide concentrations for the sites you explore.If at any point you refresh your browser, you will need to add the layer of industrial waste plants back on to HydroClient.


Figure 1. SCHEMATIC ALLEGHENY RIVER SYSTEM MAP showing how the river flows north to south (vertical blue line), with many smaller tributaries (horizontal and diagonal blue lines). Also shown with big blue dots are some of the publicly operated treatment works (POTW), power plants (PP), and industrial waste plants (IWP). Some POTWs were allowed to treat and discharge Marcellus brines into the river before April 2011. IWPs and PPs also can discharge water + waste into the river. Steel plants (SPs) also use and discharge water with some contamination into the river and acid mine drainage (AMD) inputs also impact the river. (Neither SPs nor AMD are shown.) No known waste treatment plants are located above POTW-A. The map is not to scale: Freeport lies many river miles above the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority intake: along this reach of the river that is not shown, one SP, two PPs and 1 POTW are located. Sampling spots on the river are shown as black dots: data and locations were taken from States et al. (2013). The following plants were known to process and discharge Marcellus waste waters before the May 2011 ban: POTW-A, -B, -C. The following sites also treated such wastes before the ban and are thought to still treat such wastes from conventional oil and gas wells: IWP-A, -B, -C.

Site 1: Intake Waters at Pittsburgh Water Treatment Plant at the PWSA

The first stop will be the intake site for water from the Allegheny River for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (at the bottom of Figure 1). As you move through the sites, we suggest that you write down on Figure 1 the maximum and minimum bromide concentrations for each site. For example, the value in the Clarion river at the Route 58 Bridge is already on Figure 1.

The Pittsburgh Water Treatment Plant for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority provides water and sewer service to more than 300,000 consumers throughout Pittsburgh. [1]


· Use the Enter a location search box at the top left of the screen to zoom to a geographic area. Start typing “Pittsburgh Water Treatment Plant, Freeport Road, Pittsburgh, PA, United States” . and the dropdown list will popup. Use cursor to click the option on the dropdown list.


The map will zoom to the plant: the area of the map is shown at the bottom center with a green “thumbs up” notifying you the area is small enough to search for data. In this case, however, it will be helpful if the search encompasses a larger map area.

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· Click on the zoom in (+ sign) or zoom out (negative sign) until you can view Sycamore Island and you have a green thumbs up. Sycamore is an island in the middle of the Allegheny River and is circled at right. Your map should look similar to the screenshot at right but each monitor may look slightly different.


Now you will define your search criteria in the right-side tool bar to find all the bromide data from January, 1900 to today in the area that your map is currently showing.

· Begin by clicking on the blue Select Date Range button and typing in “1/1/1900” to “5/18/2017” in the From and To boxes. then click Save.

· Click Select Keyword(s),to search only for Bromide.


o There are a lot of species in the database so you must find bromide. You’ll see the Common and Full List: click Full Listand use the Filter to type “bromide” into the window as shown at right.

o Click on the little plus sign next to Chemical as circled at right. Next, click on the plus sign next to Inorganic.

o Continue to click on the little plus sign under Inorganic>Major>Major, non-metals>Bromide. Make sure to click on the square next to Bromide so that a green check mark appears to show it is selected. To move forward, click Save.


· Next, use the Select Data Service(s)button. All the sources of data are shown, including Shale Network, EPA, and US Geological Survey. Use the Search box as shown at right to type “Shale Network.” Shale Network is a team of scientists based in Pennsylvania, led by Penn State, that has been publishing water quality data online in the area of shale gas development. Click on the row to highlight the Shale Network data service as shown below. (Don’t click on Shale Network tab).


· Click Close.

· Click Search Map to begin the search. After a few seconds one or more blue markers will pop up on the map as shown at right. If you hover over a blue marker, it has a number that indicates how many data series are available in the database for that location. If you zoom in, the blue markers show more precise locations, while if you zoom out the locations will be more generalized.

· To view only the data series that are located upstream of the Pittsburgh Water Treatment Plant on this map, click on the blue data marker circled at right and you will get a table describing the data at that location.



· Highlight the row of data by clicking anywhere on row as shown below.


· Now that you have highlighted the row, we will preview a plot of the data with the Data Series Viewer. To View the data: click Select Action, Save selection to workspace,and click on theWorkspace button in the top right corner of the table. In the Workspace, highlight the data by clicking on the row, click Select Tool,select Data Series Viewer,and click Launch Tool. The Data Series Viewer will open in a new window and will allow you to preview a plot of bromide concentration in the river (left axis) versus time (bottom axis). These data were reported by States et al. (2013).


· Look at the data in the graph or the table for the Allegheny River water intake to the PWSA. Estimate the highest and lowest values. The bromide concentrations are given in the DataValues column (column E) or you can read from the graph. (Write answer here or on Figure 1).

· Notice that the bromide concentrations are high in the summer when it doesn’t rain much and low in the fall and spring when concentrations are diluted by lots of rain.

We are now going to estimate bromide concentrations for other sites on the Allegheny River moving from north to south to fill out these concentrations on Figure 1. You can either follow all the instructions below, or you can navigate around the river on your own, looking for bromide concentrations, using all the steps just discussed, to fill out on Figure 1 and then go to “Questions to Think About”.

Site 2: The Most Northern Spot: Warren County, Allegheny River

We will now go to the most northern sampling spot on the river (top of Figure 1). Close the Data Series Viewer by finding the tiny x and clicking on it (don’t click the x for the entire browser!). In the Workspace, click the blue button labelled Search in the upper right to return to the map. DO NOT CLICK REFRESH. If you click refresh by accident, you probably will want to add the layer of industrial plants back on.


· We will go to Warren, PA well above all the industrial inputs to the river (see Figure 1). Enter a location: type ” Paws Along the River Human Society, Warren PA, United States”(This is just a landmark, we are not investigating the Humane Society.)

· Keep search criteria the same as Site 1 (Date Range:01/01/1900 to 5/18/2017, Keyword: Bromide, Data Service: Shale Network.) Click Search Map. Click on the blue data marker located in the stream to view the search results with the Site Name: Warren. Put your data in the Workspace and then look at it in the Data Series Viewer. Note that you will want to click on the PWSA data row to un-highlight it if it is still in your workspace. Otherwise, both datasets will be plotted in Data Viewer.


· Write down the range of values at Warren here and on Figure 1. How do the bromide concentrations at Warren compare to concentrations at the PWSA? What might this tell us?

Site 3: Moving South: Tionesta County, Allegheny River

We will now move to Tionesta (see Figure 1). Follow the previous directions on how to search for and preview data in the Data Series Viewer. Keep all search parameters, including the Date Range, Keyword, and Data Service the same.

· Location:Station Rd, Tionesta, PA, United States


· What are the concentrations of bromide at Tionesta and how do they compare to Warren? What does this tell us about natural bromide concentrations in the Allegheny River? Note that most natural stream samples in PA without human impacts are 10 ppb or lower but most analytical labs have a detection limit of 20 to 60 ppb bromide. The EPA recommendation for bromide is 60 ppb.

Site 4: Kennerdell, Venago County, Allegheny River

Location: Kennerdell, PA, United States

· Click Search Mapand then Show Search Results.

Click on the blue data marker shown at right and preview in the Data Series Viewer.


Write the range of values here and on Figure 1.

Site 5: Franklin, Venago County, Allegheny River


Location: Franklin, PA, United States

· Click Search Mapand then Show Search Results.

· Click on the blue data marker shown at right and preview in the Data Series Viewer.


· What do you think explains the bromide concentrations between Warren and Kennerdell?

Site 6: Crooked Creek near Stitt Hill Bridge, Armstrong County


Now we will proceed downstream to Crooked Creek before it flows into the Allegheny River.

· Location: Lumac Inc, Pennsylvania 66, Ford City, PA, United States

· Click on the blue data marker circled at right and preview in the Data Series Viewer.

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· Look at the range of values at the Stitt Hill bridge on Crooked Creek and write values here and on Figure 1. What might explain the values you found in Crooked Creek? Note that IWP-B treated and released Marcellus brines before 2011: before dilution these waters can have bromide concentrations up to 2,000,000 ppb bromide.

Site 7: Kiski River Bridge, Leechburg

Now let’s look downstream where the Kiskiminetas (“Kiski”) River enters the Allegheny (see Figure 1).

· Location: Kiski Camp Drive, Leechburg, PA, United States

· Zoom out until map is similar to the one at right.Search Map.

· The most northern blue dot is Schenley (LDB) and the most southern is Kiski Railroad Bridge. Click Show Search Results to view both sites.


· Highlight both rows of data and navigate to the Data Series Viewer for each site and add concentrations to Figure 1.


· Look at the HydroClient map or at Figure 1 and investigate the surrounding area on the Kiski River. What might explain the values you found at Kiski Railroad Bridge?

· If you are interested, you might look at Figure 1 and use HydroClient to determine whether the bromide concentrations in the Kiski river above and below the POTW between Apollo and Leechburg bridges are different. This POTW accepted brines from Marcellus shale gas wells and discharged them to the river before 2011. Can you see an increase in bromide below the POTW? What about above and below the IWP on the same river? What does this mean about the source of bromide? If you have time, you might look above and below POTW-B on the Conemaugh river by comparing bromide concentrations at the Route 56 Bridge (Rte 56, Johnstown) and at the Johnstown railroad bridge (Daisytown, Pennsylvania). This POTW (municipal sewage treatment plant) received Marcellus wastewaters before April 2011. (Note that the POTW does not show up on the map as a red balloon.) Bromide is also used in coal to suppress mercury emissions. Do you see any evidence for high bromide downstream from PP-A or PP-B?

· You can also explore the IWP on Blacklick Creek, which flows into the Conemaugh river, which flows into the Kiski, which flows into the Allegheny River (see Figure 1).

Questions to Think About

· After investigating the sites and placing values on Figure 1: where does the bromide come from at the PWSA and how does it compare to background values (and what does background mean)?

· Which river do you think is responsible for most of the bromide? This cannot be determined simply by concentration because the concentration could be high but the flow rate (i.e. discharge) of the river could be low. Here is the relative discharge of the rivers: Kiski river (1505 to 7539 m 3 /minute) > Clarion River (668 to 3724 m 3 /minute) >> Crooked Creek. The “bromide load” of a river is the concentration multiplied by the discharge. Which river do you think might have the largest load (i.e. concentration multiplied by discharge) and be most responsible for the bromide at PWSA? What is upstream on that river?

· One conclusion from this study is that discharge of bromide-containing brine to the Allegheny is not a good idea. But what else should we be thinking about?

Floating Down the Allegheny River

I-80 from below

There is just enough time left in the year to take one more ‘day’ trip before the water gets too cold. That’s all it takes, one day. One day to garner enough memories to last all year long and to begin planning for the next year. Once you do this one time, you will want to do it again and again.

Floating down the Allegheny River on rafts is the most relaxing yet exciting time you can imagine. There are rivers all over, what makes this one so special? The depth of the river. Over the years the water has cut deep into the mountains of Pennsylvania. The water does not run like the rapids of the Colorado River, it is nice and slow moving.

If you’ve ever traveled across I-80 through Pennsylvania, just past the Emlenton exit you will cross the river and see just how deep into the earth it really is.

Your starting point will be at Emlenton, PA there is a small park that allows ‘floaters’ or canoes to get into the water, and you can leave your vehicle parked there with no problem. There are a few small stores right at the park so if you’ve forgotten an item or two, you can easily pick them up.

Don’t forget your pick up car!

What you will need for your trip;

1. Rafts – The cheap kind you find at the local dollar store for around $5 will work just fine. You will need one for each person in your party, and one for your cooler. Keep in mind, the more the merrier!

2. Cooler – For drinks and food along the way, you will want to keep hydrated and keep your food dry.

3. Rope – To lash the rafts together. Why? This makes it more fun, so you can all stick together and get to see all sides of the river as you slowly spin around.

4. Water proof camera – So you can view all the sites along the way, and have pictures of them for your scrap book.

5. Baggies – The zip kind for your keys and wallets, so they don’t get wet.

6. Water shoes – If you have them, they are not necessary but handy for walking on the rocky bottom of this river. Flip-flops will work just fine.

That is about all you will need for the time of your life!
Depending on how long you wish to spend in the water will be your pick up point. You should have a car parked at your pick up point as well, unless you have someone picking you up.

Foxburg Pennsylvania

The first stop is Foxburg – That is about 2 miles down the river this should take you about 4 hours of floating. There is a little bait shop/store at the ramp area that you can park your pick up car. Just stop inside and let them know what you’re doing, they are more than happy to accommodate you.



Keep your eyes open

Unless you are taking little ones there should be no need for life preservers, the water never gets really deep, in this area. There is one point where it is quite shallow and unless you like having your butt hairs scraped off, you might want to walk your rafts through. There is a divide you will come up to, you can go around to the ‘deep’ side, we chose the shallow side.

You do not need paddles, the river runs smoothly, if you find a need to ‘paddle’, your arms will get you going along just fine. There are a few houses along they way and you might catch a glimpse of a human from time to time, just give them a wave. These folks are very friendly and will surely wave back at you.

There are a couple of sandy spots along the way should you want to stop and have a look around, just pull up your rafts and get out. Have lunch, relax and enjoy the view. You might see some wild life coming to the water to get a drink. If you’re too noisy, they will just leave you alone.

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The rocks along the way will probably be the biggest you’ve ever seen in your life. Some as big as houses. You will go under I -80, make sure you wave at the Truckers, they will be the only ones to see you. There are several bridges along the way that you will go under as well, even and ‘old time’ train trestle.

It was as though someone designed this particular spot in the Allegheny River just for those who want to go floating.

If you choose to take the longer route into Parker, Pennsylvania (about 5 miles), there is a large parking lot in which to park your vehicle. The river opens up much wider at this point and is quite busy with boaters and such. Of course the water is much deeper in this area.

This trip can be made again and again once the rafts have been purchased, for just the cost of your food and gas to get there. Once you have made one trip down the Allegheny River you are going to be looking at other rivers which you can traverse.

If you don’t get to make it this year, make sure you include it in your plans for next year. Mark ‘Floating down the Allegheny River’ on your calendar, the sites are something that you don’t want to miss!

Starting Point


Sweetsusieg (author) from Michigan on August 25, 2011:

On 268 there are at least 2 waterslides or like waterfalls that are across the road from the river between Parker to Foxburg and Foxburg to Emelenton. If your on the river it would be on the West side. River connects to the Allegheny in between Foxburg and Parker. Hope this helps!!

sarah on August 25, 2011:

does anyone know if there are natural waterslides around parker or emlenton that we can get to from the river?

Sweetsusieg (author) from Michigan on December 08, 2010:

Thanks!! We had an absolute blast on this trip! I would Love to do it again. But this time I’d like to start where we left off and go further to Parker.

Ways to Raft Down A River

Holiday Boats

Ways to Raft Down A River. The roots of modern river rafts date back to the post-World War II surplus equipment sold across the country. Before rubber, river runners were using wooden boats with poor agility and little room for cargo or passengers. They were heavy, easy to break, and time-consuming to repair. To avoid these issues, Goodrich Rubber Company manufactured one of the first rubber rafts for whitewater in 1938 for use on a documentary film trip. The resulting footage from the trip inspired more individuals to experiment, and once they became cheap and abundant after the war, rubber rafts became king and wooden boats generally fell out of style.

The diversity in boat types on the river has never been greater than it is today, with almost all of them being made of rubber. Because every boat provides a different experience and their names are not always intuitive, here is a basic guide to the main types of water crafts you may see on the river.

Oar Rafts

Oar Raft Lodore Canyon - Ways to Raft Down A River

The luxury cruise liner of the river, oar rafts are designed to carry as much gear as possible while leaving space for passengers to ride comfortably onboard. For seating and gear storage, oar rafts have wooden or aluminum frames strapped onto them, with the oars attached in the middle. These boats are sometimes confused with paddle boats, as the guts of both are the same, but the utility and experience of each could not be more different. On a paddleboat, everyone is participating, while oar rafts are powered by a single person utilizing two 9-10 ft. long oars positioned off of either side of the boat, allowing the passengers to relax, lay back, and enjoy the ride. A typical oar raft can carry 5-6 people and upwards of 1500 pounds!

For slow, flat-water stretches, there is no more relaxing way to travel downstream than riding along on an oar boat. Sharing stories and conversations, reading books, taking naps, or simply marveling at the scenery, the experience of the calm float offers something that is lost in activity. Due to the heavy weight of gear, food, and passengers, oar boats are difficult to flip and generally the safest way downstream, making them the most popular boats for multi-day trips.

Paddle Boat

Paddle Boat Westwater

A paddleboat is what most people picture traveling on when they imagine “whitewater rafting”. These rafts have elevated tubes that make up the sides with smaller tubes running width-wise across the floor. These smaller tubes are called “thwarts” and they act as seats or footholds for passengers. Paddleboats hold between 6-8 people and everybody has their own paddle, with one person (usually a river guide) sitting in the back. The passengers are responsible for creating and maintaining momentum, with the captain in the back doing all the steering and voice commands.

Paddleboats are a great way for people to participate and stay active. With strong paddlers, these boats are very maneuverable and lots of fun in the whitewater. However it is often hard to find 6-8 people who are committed to paddling the entirety of a trip. They are not designed to carry any cargo, and because of how lightweight they are, it is much easier to flip over in a rapid. Also, paddling can be a tough workout, especially in flat water and fighting a headwind, which may scare away any willing participation. Ideal for day trips and active groups, paddle boats are rare for multi-day trips but may be available upon request. Read more about why we don’t bring paddle boats on all of our trips in this blog.

Inflatable Kayak

Inflatable Kayak - Ways to Raft Down A River

Affectionately known as “duckies” for the characteristic way they appear to waddle downstream while following bigger boats (mama ducks), inflatable kayaks are a great source of freedom and autonomy on the river. Great for beginner and experienced paddlers alike, duckies are fun, stable, and easy to use while providing good exercise and the opportunity to explore the river on your own. It is common to see duckies on all stretches of water, but are not typically used in larger whitewater on commercial trips. Most kayaks are designed for one adult, but tandem duckies have become more popular in recent years. Holiday will bring duckies on most trips, when appropriate.

Stand up Paddleboard (SUP)

Stand up Paddle Board Westwater - Ways to Raft Down A River

The newest river craze is the stand up paddleboard, or SUP. Despite being inflatable, these can be stiff as a surfboard and surprisingly stable. Manufacturers make many different shapes and sizes of SUPs, with the river designs being wider and thicker to better fare in whitewater. Another fun option to explore the river with autonomy, SUPs offer a unique workout and challenge to those seeking an active experience. The flat water of Cataract, Ruby/Horsethief Canyons, and Desolation Canyon are the most common sections of river that Holiday will bring SUPs.

Originally from the suburbs near Cleveland, Ohio, Justin made his way to Utah after graduating from Ohio University with a degree in exploring and having fun… If not on the river or in the kitchen, you’ll find him wandering the mountains, drinking coffee, or writing down words he hopes will come across as sensical.




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