Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
DEP: Susquehanna River not impaired
BY AD CRABLE, Staff Writer
The state Department of Environmental Protection says there's no evidence to list the main stem of the Susquehanna River as impaired.
But that's just what the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, environmental groups and many anglers have been imploring DEP and legislators to do after years of young smallmouth bass die-offs and the appearance of lesions and black splotches, and fish with both male and female characteristics.
In submitting to the federal Environmental Protection Agency its every-other-year required list of water assessments, however, the Susquehanna was not listed among the bodies of water considered impaired.
"Our final report is firmly grounded in sound science, and we expect that EPA will agree with it based on the science presented," DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said in a press release.
"Based on the science and law, we do not believe that the main stem of Susquehanna River should be proposed as impaired under the Clean Water Act."
An impaired listing to EPA under the federal Clean Water Act would require the agency to determine the sources of pollutants and clean them up.
In addition to the PFBC, which does not have regulatory authority to mandate such action, the impaired water listing had been requested by such groups as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Penn Future, American Rivers, Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited and 22 retired employees of DEP.
They want the river considered impaired from the Holtwood Dam to Sunbury.
But Krancer said such a view is "based on very limited, piecemeal data and is not supported by the existing data or the law."
Krancer said that while the agency does not think there is scientific evidence for an impaired listing, DEP recognizes there are issues facing smallmouth bass.
"The actual cause of these issues has not yet been determined or linked to any particular water-quality issue," Krancer said," but DEP is dedicated to finding the answer through a disciplined scientific approach."
Krancer said the agency would work with PFBC, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the U.S. Geological Survey to ensure that water quality and aquatic life are being protected in the river.
He said that last summer the agency collected hundreds of samples to determine water quality on the river and its tributaries.
"We plan on keeping our efforts up," Krancer said. "We will continue sampling at 30 locations throughout the Susquehanna River basin to develop a very comprehensive set of data. We will continue to look at water-quality issues facing the river, such as pesticide runoff, hormone-disrupting compounds and nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen."
In contrast, the PFBC has declared that the presence of sick fish means a sick river.
Its sampling has shown increased levels of dissolved phosphorus, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, PCBs, personal-care products and 13 compounds found in flame retardants.
In addition, PFBC said the river is suffering from low dissolved oxygen, high pH and increased algae that robs the water of oxygen needed by young fish.
Bob Bachman, a PFBC member from Lancaster County, had not yet read DEP's findings, but said Monday afternoon, "If they're recognizing that there is a problem and they're dedicated to finding out about the cause of the problem, that is encouraging."
nBoat Commission, anglers, environmentalists disagree, say it's sick.