Another Highland Park Reservoir Duck Update

You remember there is a situation at the Reservoir with ducklings dying? After a lot of back and forth, I have a formal response from PWSA.

Two key facts

  1. They have established a ‘hotline’ of sorts for people to report wildlife (and other) emergencies to a 24/7 dispatch team at 412-255-2423 (note, I have no idea if this line will work for reporting lead levels)
  2. The lack of a cap on the reservoir means they can’t prevent wildlife from contaminating the water (duck excrement) and/or prevent them from nesting near this body of water.

So we have a water triangle here: PWSA wants to provide contaminant-free drinking water, wildlife advocates and the PA Game Commission want to protect wildlife of all sorts that are drawn to the reservoir, and the Highland Park community wants an open reservoir design to maintain the historic and recreational value of the park.

No one is 100% right here and no one is 100% wrong.

I’m not sure what use a hotline will be useful for struggling ducklings who are dying as opposed to a deer stuck in the pond who needs urgent but not emergency help. We still don’t have data on the rate of wildlife deaths in this reservoir. We don’t know if they will remove the shrubbery and growth that attracts the ducks to discourage nesting or if the community would agree to that. Obviously, reducing contaminants is better for those of who drink PWSA waters.

If the ducklings weren’t dying before, but are now – why? If the two mothers in the reservoir now don’t seem to understand how to get their brood to safety, can they individually be relocated by the Game Commission?

I don’t want the ducklings to die if they don’t have to, but I understand the circle of life, etc. My greater concern is about the ludicrous convoluted circle of communication and decision-making that takes place between PWSA, Department of Public Works, City Parks, Human Animal Rescue Wildlife Center, the Parks Conservancy, and the PA Game Commission. One of the email messages I received practically cc’d a Who’s Who of bureaucrats plus the Pope and a few saints for good measure.  Over ducklings.

Why can’t we fix the water problem? Are they too distracted or just unsure what to do?

Your guess is as good as mine.

As an open drinking water reservoir, Highland Reservoir 1 is particularly vulnerable to environmental contaminants. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) is responsible for producing the highest quality drinking water for our customers. That said, we also recognize that our reservoir is part of a neighborhood and community that is filled with beautiful natural and living assets to our city. 

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have concerned residents in the community who notify PWSA, usually quite quickly, of incidents with wildlife in the water at the reservoir. Most wildlife rescues over the years have been successful; unfortunately, some are not. The value of this reservoir to the community is reinforced by the residents’ active notification of their concerns about its quality, and interaction of wildlife. The Highland Park community contacts us quickly when they observe possible concerns, which has minimized the impacts to wildlife and provided added security for our stored water. PWSA sincerely appreciates all the community assistance to manage our water sources.

After performing a site evaluation at the reservoir and discussions with the PA Game Commission last week, we are exploring improvements that would address these issues in the longer term, with a goal to have this in place before the next brooding season. These improvements would include measures to secure the site to prevent ducks from entering the reservoir. In the meantime, residents should continue to alert our Emergency Dispatchers at 412-255-2423, which is available 24/7. Quick incident reporting to our emergency line optimizes PWSA’s response to the reservoir issues. We also intend to add informational signage more immediately at the reservoir that includes this number to enhance public notification and safety of the natural wildlife in the area.

The water level of the reservoir is not related to the presence of the ducks, nor is it a public health concern. Since the end of January, Highland Reservoir 1 was slowly filled to higher than normal levels.  During the past few months, residents may have become more accustomed to seeing the reservoir closer to its maximum capacity, which is the top of the blue liner.  Over the past few weeks, PWSA has drawn the reservoir back down to its normal operating level. The level of the reservoir can be variable and is set by the operational needs of the water system.

Since we are unable to cover the reservoir, and have a large financial investment in the Microfiltration Plant to make this open reservoir available to the community, the best process will be to make the necessary improvements to the reservoir, along with the quick notification of the many committed residents of the community so we can act as quickly as possible to address any issues. PWSA looks forward to a continued mutual focus on sustaining the Highland Reservoir 1 reservoir for its inherent beauty, and essential drinking water supply uses.

We will continue to keep you posted as we finalize the plans for the improvements around the reservoir.

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