WINTER 2007                               water, land, life.

line decor
line decor




The Harmony of the Allegheny: A River in Three Parts

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has been actively involved in protecting the Allegheny River, its tributaries and the life these waterways support since the 1960s. A 325-mile long waterway, the Allegheny River is best understood in its three distinct parts: the upper, middle and lower sections. The upper section begins as a spring that trickles down a hillside on a farm in Potter County. The river expands as it loops around, picking up tributaries like French Creek and the Clarion River.

When it reaches Kinzua Reservoir above the City of Warren, Pennsylvania, the middle Allegheny begins. This stretch extends to Brady’s Bend in Clarion County and is wide, breathtaking and unobstructed by dams for 127 miles. It is a paddler’s dream, offering the natural challenges of eddy pools and swift currents around boulders, followed by quiet, still waters to be discovered on the back channel of an undisturbed island. The Allegheny’s changing currents are a primary reason why it is home to such a rich diversity of aquatic life, and why it hosts some of the best remaining
populations of freshwater species in the world.

While the middle Allegheny has good water quality overall, it nonetheless faces challenges. Past decades of drainage from coal mines and polluted discharge from industrial sites left sections of the Allegheny River in a degraded state. With the exception of Indiana County’s Little Mahoning Creek, many tributaries that The Allegheny River at sunrise. Photo by John Karian feed into the river have fallen victim to abandoned mine drainage.

The lower Allegheny is by far the busiest and most industrialized section of the river. Extending 72
miles, this “working river” passes Pittsburgh as it merges to form the Ohio River. Once heavily polluted by industrial contamination, the lower Allegheny is in a state of renewal. In recent years, mussel and fish populations have begun to return - but only in isolated pockets. Water quality has improved - but it varies greatly and is still poor in many sections. Traces of toxins in the water continue to make human consumption of large quantities of fish from the river risky.

In our 40-year history with the river, WPC has protected 22 river islands totaling more than 500 acres. Several of these islands are now part of the Allegheny River Islands Wilderness, a
component of Allegheny National Forest. The Conservancy has also protected 19,500 acres of shoreline, floodplain, valley slope and tributary watersheds. In addition, WPC has protected 10,800 acres of land near the river, supporting our conservation goals for the watershed. WPC’s conservation work on the Clarion River (11,600 acres protected), a major Allegheny tributary, will also help to insure the quality of the larger river into the future.

The articles that follow illustrate how WPC is continuing its legacy of both protecting and seeking to better understand this important river.