Thursday, May 15, 2008

Health Department to Issue River Water Advisories

The City of Three Rivers provides many opportunities for river recreation. Though, according to the Allegheny County Health Department this river water may not be entirely safe. With the boating season that begins today, the health department will begin to issue its Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) advisories. Department spokesman Guillermo Cole explains that when heavy rains fall they force the sewers to overflow and cause the runoff to spill into the rivers. This runoff consists of sewage as well as rainwater which contains some bacteria and viruses that are not otherwise present in river water. Cole says that under a CSO advisory water recreation is not prohibited, but it is recommended that people minimize contact with river water, especially those with open cuts or sores and those with weak immune systems. So how do you know if a CSO advisory is in effect? The department offers CSO advisories via phone, on its webpage, or through the flag system. The CSO flag system consists of 31 marinas or docks across the three rivers which hoist an orange flag bearing "CSO" when an advisory is in effect. The advisories are weather-based so there is no way to predict how often they will be issued. Cole says that advisory frequency and length can vary citing that during a drier summer last year there was 14 alerts averaging 4 days in length for a total of 57 days, but in the wet summer of 2004 there were only 6 alerts lasting 21 days on average for a record high of 125 days under advisory. The program has been in place since 1995.

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