Update on Highland Park Reservoir Ducklings – Why Is The Water Level So Low?

Last week, I blogged about a situation in the Highland Park Reservoir – ducklings were dying and their bodies left floating in the water. We have a positive update, but lots of questions.

First, the good news. Another set of hatchlings (5 in total) seem to be doing well so far. Mama duck is scooting the ducklings up onto the reservoir lining so they can rest and eat. If all goes well, this brood should be okay when they are old enough to get out of the reservoir on their own. Here’s a photo taken as of Monday, May 29 at 7 PM by a Highland neighbor. Neighbors are vigilantly monitoring these ducklings for any sign of trouble.

Now for the rest of the story.

A duck issue was reported by the Post-Gazette in 2006. It was supposed to be addressed then. When I asked wildlife volunteers about the past 11 years, I was informed that there were no problems in that interim. They also identified the major difference in the environment.

It is the water level.

The water level in the reservoir is lower than neighbors recall it ever being. This means the ducklings have further to climb on a slippery slope to get a chance to rest and access food. Some mama ducklings can’t solve that problem on their own.  You can see the lining more clearly in this image.

Ducklings Highland Park
The blue lining which neighbors say was not previously visible.

We also have the expectation that several more broods will be born this summer so there is an urgent need to protect wildlife with a short-term solution, a long term solution and one more thing.

The reservoir is owned by PWSA (the lead water folks) so no City department can even set foot in the reservoir to save ducklings without PWSA permission (remember the deer?), so if there are struggling ducklings during non-business hours – no one can do a damn thing, legally. It is illegal to feed the ducks, to put anything in the reservoir, nothing can be done.

PWSA has taken some action. My understanding is that they are consulting with the National Aviary, the Western PA Conservancy, the Pittsburgh Zoo and the Wildlife Center to determine a solution. That’s a lot of expertise, but it really boils down to PWSA being willing to take quick short-term action to save the expected broods before they encounter trouble.

My sources tell me that a duckling ramp will not work given the constraints of the reservoir. Facebook is filled with suggestions from artificial webbing to tarps with rough surfaces for climbing.

So short term and long term solutions need to be put in place. And here’s the third thing.

Why is the water level low? We certainly aren’t lacking for rain in recent weeks. We’ve had much, much hotter periods of time when the water level was not an issue, at least not one the die-hard reservoir neighbors have noted. I trust people who are there several times a week to notice these things.

What happened to the water?

Crafting solution for the ducks may solve that immediate issue, but it doesn’t necessarily address the underlying cause. And this also shows that it isn’t just about some cute little ducks – it is a series of questions related to the quality of the water we drink and our interdependency on our waterways.

PWSA has a lot to address. It’s not unreasonable to assume the low water level is part of the problem. But we won’t know the ‘whys’ until we ask the questions. From the Post-Gazette:

The PWSA has been buffeted by a storm of problems, missteps, frustrations, errors and bad luck, including a revolving door of executive directors, meter problems, billing inaccuracies, water main failures, a boil water advisory, board resignations, and an illegal switch in water treatment chemicals that has contributed to rising lead levels in homes with lead service lines.

So here’s what we need you to do.

Contact PWSA by phone or email. Ask them to make public their plan to keep the wildlife safe now. Also, ask them why the water is lower.

Will Pickering, Manager of External Affairs * WPickering@pgh2o.com * 412-255-2099 You can tweet at them @PghH2o

You can also contact the City Council member responsible for Highland Park, Deb Gross at 412-255-2140 (click her name to go to her website.)

Contact the new chair of the PWSA, Debbie Lestitian. Her email is debbie.lestitian@pittsburghpa.gov You can call her 412-255-2626 ( you may need to ask to be transferred to her current office – I’m unsure where she’s based now.)

And if you have media contacts, ask them to cover the story. Last week was too “news filled” to generate interest among local reporters. And while the ducklings may not be a scintillating story, the lower water level might. The ducklings are not more important than all of the other questions we ask, they are part of those questions.

But ducklings don’t tweet. Will you?

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