Two groups have taken issue with a recent report issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection that determined there is not sufficient data to designate the Susquehanna River as impaired.
Last week’s report, which was approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, found that the water quality in the river does not meet standards outlined in the Clean Water Act to justify an impairment designation. DEP will continue to monitor the river for a variety of pollutants.
The finding didn’t sit well with two agencies who have expressed concerns about water quality in the river.
John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, called EPA’s endorsement of the report “extremely disappointing” because it delays an attempt for a clean up plan by another two years.
Arway said there is ample scientific evidence pointing toward problems with the river. He cited significant die-offs of smallmouth bass in the river - along with the related impact to recreational fishing.
“The river is sick and needs help sooner than later. Smallmouth bass are dying and it is imperative that we begin to take steps to clean up the river,” Arway said.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation was one of several groups that petitioned DEP to list the lower Susquehanna as impaired due to diseased and dying bass along a 100-mile stretch.
Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director, said in a statement that his organization is disappointed with EPA’s decision and the die-offs of smallmouth bass are so significant that scientists fear a complete collapse of the fishery is possible.
“CBF believes that listing the river as impaired would have galvanized greater resources toward investigation of the situation and, if deemed necessary, established a plan to fix it,” Campbell said. “Impairment listing would have also assured future state and federal administrations continued to focus on this issue. We will scrutinize this decision as we explore possible options.”
According to Arway, a recently published EPA survey revealed that 55 percent of the nation’s streams and rivers do not support healthy populations of aquatic life. Forty percent of waterways have high levels of phosphorous while 27 percent contain excessive levels of nitrogen.
Four sampling sites for the survey were located on the river, Arway said, and two rated poor for fish, periphyton, water quality and total phosphorus.
“Since EPA’s own data corroborated the PFBC’s findings that the river is of poor quality, we are surprised that EPA did not conclude that we need to list the river as impaired and develop a plan to fix it,” Arway said. “Despite this setback, we will continue to work collaboratively with DEP and others to collect the necessary data to prove by whatever measurement necessary that the river is impaired. Our anglers and the smallmouth bass that remain in the river deserve our full attention while we continue to debate their fate.”