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Let's Heal the Sick Susquehanna

The following first appeared in the York Daily Record.

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The Susquehanna River is sick. Declaring the river as impaired would be a major step towards its healing. Photo by John Pavoncello/York Dispatch.

We learned a few things by asking Pennsylvanians to share their concerns for clean water.

It is encouraging that people feel it is everyone's responsibility to keep our rivers and streams clean. Roughly 19,000 miles of Commonwealth waterways have been designated as impaired, including polluted stretches of water in every county. Pollution threatens our health, degrades our way of life, and challenges the economy.

Many people say they place great value on the nature of Pennsylvania's rural and agricultural landscapes. Plentiful opportunities to get out and enjoy nature, to boat, camp, hike, hunt, and fish are extremely important.

Many feel deeply connected to the Susquehanna River.

Because of this shared appreciation for clean water and enjoying the natural world, concern runs deep for a Susquehanna that is sick and in need of restoration.

In 2005, Bassmaster Magazine listed the Susquehanna as one of the five best bass fishing rivers in America. But that same year, diseased and dying smallmouths were first discovered in the river.

Since then, smallmouth bass continue to bear sores and lesions. Researchers have been finding intersex fish–adult male bass with female eggs in their testes–since the early 2000s. A world-class smallmouth bass fishery is threatened.

Recent studies led by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found endocrine-disrupting compounds and herbicides, and pathogens and parasites, to be the two most likely causes of death and disease among smallmouths in the Lower Susquehanna. The results are further evidence that the river is ailing. Although studies continue, now is the time to begin to address it.

The DEP will soon release its draft Integrated Water Quality Report which will include its decision on whether to recommend to an impairment designation for the Susquehanna. A 45-day comment period will follow.

The mighty Susquehanna and its tributaries are a way of life and life-sustaining for too many Pennsylvanians for the river's illness to continue untreated.

An impairment declaration would begin the process of healing this amazing river.

The Susquehanna River Basin drains 27,510 square miles from New York state, and through the center of the commonwealth. Its network of more than 49,000 miles of waterways is enough to circle the earth twice.

About 6.1 million people get their drinking water from the Susquehanna River Basin. That's enough people to fill Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field (home of the NFL's Eagles) 88 times.

The Susquehanna winds 444 miles from Cooperstown, NY, to Havre de Grace, MD, and provides half of the freshwater to the Chesapeake Bay. It flows 20 miles per day on an average summer day, and at a rate of 18 million gallons per minute at Havre de Grace.

About 20,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, the Susquehanna's valley floor extended southward to what is now the Chesapeake Bay. After the ice receded, the sea level rose, the Atlantic Ocean filled in the old valley and the Bay, and its tidal tributaries were born.

Just as Pennsylvania has a Clean Water Blueprint for restoring its 19,000 miles of impaired waterways, the Susquehanna deserves its own prescription for improved health. It is time to begin healing this amazing river.

—Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director

Stand with CBF and its partners in urging Governor Wolf and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to save this vital waterway by listing the Lower Susquehanna River as impaired.

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