State nixes river’s inclusion for impairment designation

Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials have concurred with the state’s 2012 Integrated Waterways Report that does not include an impairment designation for the lower Susquehanna River.

That’s the bad news for environmentalists, anglers and other concerned citizens who claim of an alarming deterioration of the smallmouth bass population on the river in recent years.

State Department of Protection officials recently released stream report data based on monitoring of areas of the river between Sunbury and Harrisburg.

The decision by the state agency not to include an impairment designation for the 98-mile stretch of the stream was based on recommendations of DEP technical staff, not on politics, it was noted.

The study did not include the West Branch section of the river.

An impairment designation would signify that more pollution is entering the water than can be assimilated, causing damage to aquatic life, water supply, recreation or consumption of fish, according to Rod Kime, DEP’s chief for Water Quality Standards Division.

DEP officials say they will continue to monitor the stream.

Further study to consider water chemistry, routine fish tissue and herbicidal/pesticide storm sampling is set for this year.

EPA approval of an impairment designation for a stream requires the state to develop a cleanup plan of the waterway.

However, it does not necessarily result in federal funding and resources.

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway released a statement expressing his disappointment about the EPA’s endorsement of the DEP report.

“We continue to believe that ample scientific evidence exists to demonstrate that the river is sick and needs help sooner than later,” he stated. “Smallmouth bass are dying and it is imperative that we begin to take steps to clean up the river. This delay will result in another two years of inaction and will result in more bass dying leading to less recreational fishing and a continued economic impact to those who benefit from a healthy river.”

Arway also said his agency will continue to work with DEP and other groups to collect the data to prove “by whatever measurement necessary” that the river is impaired.

DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday confirmed that additional data will be collected on the lower portion of the river again this summer.

In addition, the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, a section of which flows through Lycoming County, will be studied.

It will include fish sampling and water monitoring.

“We will definitely do some low-flow monitoring,” Sunday said. “Monitors will be in the water during critical times of the summer.”

Points of the West Branch set for the study will be in Jersey Shore, Lewisburg and Clearfield County as well as some of its tributaries including Pine Creek, Loyalsock Creek, Kettle Creek and Grays Run.