The Susquehanna River Basin Commission released its “State of the Susquehanna” report Wednesday, using data collected from among more than 49,000 miles of river and streams that begin in upstate New York and eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay. At a time when natural gas drilling has put the SRBC in the spotlight, its executive director, Paul Swartz, took a decidedly non-political approach to the report.
“SRBC’s goal is to provide data and let the data speak for themselves, not to rate or rank conditions,” wrote Swartz in the report’s introductory message.
The Department of Environmental Protection has clashed with the Fish and Boat Commission over the health of the river basin. The FBC executive director John Arway urged the DEP to seek a federal “impaired” status for the Susquehanna River. But DEP Secretary Michael Krancer refused to do so. An “impaired” designation by the EPA could boost efforts to clean up the river.
The report looks at data trends for water use and development, floods and droughts, stormwater, mine drainage, sediment and nutrients, human health and drinking water protection, and habitat and aquatic resources. The last report was issued in 2010.
The SRBC says sediment has improved overall. But more than 2,000 miles of streams are still polluted by acid mine drainage. The Commission also points to the increased incidence of disease among the smallmouth bass, which remains a mystery. And bacteria levels in drinking water supplies doubled between 2010 and 2012.
SRBC executive director Swartz says the greatest threat is the reduction in federal dollars to monitoring equipment, operated by the U.S. Geological Survey.
“Without the data from the stream gages,” wrote Swartz, “we will literally be ‘flying blind.’ A more viable, sustainable way of funding the stream gages must be secured before we lose our vital ‘hidden infrastructure’ that water resource managers rely upon so extensively.”