WATERVILLE - The Susquehanna River Basin Commission is considering a new policy to protect monthly and seasonal stream flows in the face of natural gas industry use, SRBC representatives told members of the Pine Creek Preservation Association this week.
A new low-flow protection policy, pending SRBC approval, would use monthly and seasonal passby data, rather than static annual averages, so the agency may more accurately issue passbys.
A passby suspends water withdrawals when low-flow levels are reached.
The intent is to "preserve the seasonal variability of natural flow regimes," said Jim Richenderfer, SRBC director of technical programs.
The policy was drafted over the past two years after a particularly dry spring.
That spring, because of an annual formula for determining stream flows rather than a seasonal formula, a needed passby was not issued.
The new policy would protect against those instances, he said.
Richenderfer accentuated that high flows are necessary for the health of the Susquehanna River and its tributaries because it acts as a natural flushing system.
Low flows are normal in the early summer and late fall, and nature is accustomed to those rhythms, he said.
When those flows are interrupted or changed by humans, however, it becomes problematic.
"All we do is based on science. The low-flow policy represents better science than the current policy," Richenderfer said.
"We can't control droughts, but we can control water withdrawals," Richenderfer said.
Though the Susquehanna is a water-rich basin, according to Thomas Beauduy, SRBC deputy executive director and counsel, it's still crucial to monitor water withdrawals with the gas companies withdrawing an average of 10.46 million gallons per day from the basin.
Once the gas industry is at full production, it's projected to use 11 billion gallons per year, Beauduy said.
Of course, that amount must be looked at contextually, he said: The power industry uses 11 billion gallons of water every three days.
However, the water withdrawn by the gas industry is lost 100 percent, according to the most recent data, he said.