Pennsylvanians debate declaring Susquehanna "impaired"

Environmental IssuesEnvironmental PoliticsEnvironmental CleanupChesapeake Bay Foundation

Pennsylvanians are debating whether the Susquehanna River - the Chesapeake Bay's leading source of fresh water - should be declared "impaired" because of mysterious illnesses and declines in its fish.

Lancaster Online reports that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has urged the state Department of Environmental Protection to add a stretch of the Susquehanna to the state's list of impaired waters. 

The commission made the request in April out of concern over die-offs of juvenile smallmouth bass, outbreaks of disease and sores appearing on juvenile and adult bass and the incidence of intersex bass - males with egg-bearing characteristics. 

"The river is in trouble. Sick fish mean we have a sick river," said John Arway, head of the fish commission, Lancaster Online reported.

A fish commission biologist also noted the river suffers from low dissolved oxygen, high pH and contaminants including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, pesonal care products and flame retardants.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Penn Future, American Rivers and Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited support adding the river to Pennsylvania's list of impaired waters, an official designation under the Clean Water Act which would trigger tighter state regulation of known or potential sources of the impairment.

But Michael Krancer, secretary of environmental protection, opposes the listing, Lancaster Online reports.  In a letter replying to the fish commission, Krancer wrote that the "facts and science" don't warrant declaring the river impaired.

"Since we do not know what the stressor (is) to fish at this point," Krancer said, "there is nothing to appropriately or with factual support impair the river for."

A spokesman for the state environmental protection department said that while it has no evidence to warrant declaring the river impaired, it will review public comments and other information submitted before making a formal decision later this year.  The comment period ended May 22.

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