For years, both anglers and scientists have witnessed death and disease in the Suquehanna River’s smallmouth bass population.
The issue has gained national attention, yet two state agencies have clashed over how to handle the problem.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission disagreed over whether a 100-mile stretch of river’s main stem should be officially labeled as “impaired.”
Today the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) weighed in, and agreed with the DEP. The river will not be designated as impaired.
EPA Region 3 spokesman David Sternberg explained in an email to StateImpact Pennsylvania:
Although we share the continuing concerns about the health of the smallmouth bass population, we do not have sufficient data at this time to scientifically support listing the main stem of the Susquehanna as impaired.
We support the continuing studies being conducted by the Commonwealth to determine both the cause of the declining health of the smallmouth bass population, and to make a determination as to whether or not the main stem of the Susquehanna is impaired.
Representatives from the DEP and the Fish and Boat Commission debated the issue last night at a public forum on the river’s health in Harrisburg, hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
John Arway, head of the state Fish and Boat Commission believes the evidence is clear a serious problem exits.
“Right now, we don’t have a plan to fix the river,” he said. ”We keep studying it to determine whether or not the river is sick.”
DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said the state could face lawsuits from polluters if an official impairment status forced them to make big changes.
“In a legal fashion, ‘impairment’ means we’re not meeting water quality 99 percent of the time,” he said, “The data we’ve collected shows we’re not close to violating that rule.”
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued a statement this afternoon saying they were disappointed with the EPA’s determination:
We will scrutinize this decision as we explore possible options. But one thing is clear; we can and must do more than study the problem to save the smallmouth bass.
Both state agencies say they’re working together to expand water quality monitoring this year throughout the Susquehanna and its tributaries.