A few words about sewers

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It’s not the most glamorous topic, but one some of you are probably interested in at least as it relates to the water quality in the Allegheny River.

As many of you know, heavy rains can have an adverse affect on Pittsburgh’s waterways. Lots of rain can overflow the sewer system, at which point not only untreated sewage but also trash and litter from the roadways flow openly into the area’s rivers and streams.

Because of these events, called combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, ALCOSAN created a Sewer Overflow Advisory Key, or SOAK, system to advise the public when it isn’t in their best interest to go in the water.

The pollution makes the rivers unsuitable for users of all kinds while the overflows are active, and unsuitable for what ALCOSAN terms primary users – swimmers, jet skiers, water skiers and anyone else whose body is coming into direct contact with the water – for up to 48 hours after the overflow stops. At that point, the river goes back to what they call dry weather operation and it is considered safe for all users to enter the water.

If you want to read more about ALCOSAN’s definitions, testing, alert system, etc., go here.

All this obviously impacts the triathlon and you because we don’t want anyone putting themselves at unnecessary risk for illness, infection and other unwanted consequences by swimming or kayaking when the rivers are unsafe.  Therefore, we will only hold the swim leg of the race in the triathlon and the kayak leg of the adventure race if the river is in dry operation status, meaning it’s been at least 48 hours since the last active overflow stopped.

So what are the chances that there won’t be a water-based leg of the race?
Tough to say.

ALCOSAN reports on status changes from May 1 to Oct. 31. Since May 1 of this year, river conditions have been in active overflow status 29 times including twice last week. The river has been in dry weather operation status since 12:11 a.m. on Saturday (July 10), so had the races been this past weekend the swim and kayak events would have gone off as planned.

In the event that we’re not as fortunate a month from now, the format of both the triathlon and adventure race will change to a time trial bike-run.

We did consider going to a run-bike-run, but some of the feedback we got suggested that a number of athletes just aren’t prepared or in favor of that format. We also learned of a number of triathlons elsewhere that switch to a bike-run format under similar circumstances.

Our fingers are crossed that nature cooperates in the days leading up to the triathlons and adventure race, but our top priority is keeping you as safe as possible out there. We do want to also emphasize that even if the river is in dry weather operation status, you are still entering open water and are swimming at your own risk. No system is perfect, so exercise your own judgment if come race day you have any open wounds or other issues that might make you particularly susceptible to bacteria.

If you want to read the official Friends of the Riverfront water contact policy, click here.

If you want to sign up to receive ALCOSAN river status changes by text or email, click here.

One thought on “A few words about sewers

    […] Of course, it’s important to pay attention to the current state of the rivers and whether ALCOSAN has them listed as safe to enter. See our earlier blog post about water quality and how you can check on river status here: https://pittsburghtriathlon.org/2016/07/19/a-few-words-about-sewers/ […]


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