State agencies arguing over Susquehanna

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Two Pennsylvania state agencies are at odds over the Susquehanna River, its water quality and aquatic life.

John Arway, director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, said in a statement Tuesday that the Department of Environmental Protection isn’t sharing scientific information about the decline in fish populations in the river and isn’t putting the Susquehanna on a path for cleanup.

The commission said smallmouth bass populations have drastically fallen off; young fish are dying and older fish are developing lesions. The agency said the state should ask the federal Environmental Protection Agency to designate part of the river as “impaired,” which would make it eligible for more funding and studies to determine the source of the problem.

Arway suggested the DEP was basing its decision affecting the Susquehanna on politics, and he urged others concerned about the river to take their concerns to Congress “since DEP has decided not to list the river as an impaired water and will not place it on a path for cleanup as was done for the Chesapeake Bay.”

Department Secretary Michael Krancer said Monday that the Fish & Boat Commission request that the river be listed as impaired “is based on very limited, piecemeal data and is not supported by the existing data or the law.”

Krancer said DEP recognizes problems among smallmouth bass, including die-offs of young fish, lesions on adult bass, and fish with mixed sex organs.

“The actual cause of these issues has not yet been determined or linked to any particular water quality issue, but DEP is dedicated to finding the answer through a disciplined scientific approach,” Krancer said.

DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said Tuesday in an email that the agency is “confident in the process and conclusions of our technical experts and we expect that the EPA will agree. While there has not been a demonstrated cause and effect between water quality and the issues facing the bass, finding the answer is a priority.”

A leading environmental group said the Fish & Boat Commission was doing the right thing.

“They’re really willing to step out and have this public disagreement with a fellow conservation agency,” said George Jugovic, president of PennFuture, an environmental group with offices throughout the state. “It really is indicative of the value that they place on this resource, and the harm that’s occurring to it.”