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EPA Supports DEP Findings, Will Not List Susquehanna River As Impaired Waterway

mjmst96/ via Flickr Creative Commons

The EPA has agreed with the state DEP that scientific data does not support listing a 100-mile stretch of the Susquehanna as an impaired waterway.

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 exists.

“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.


  • Michael S. Knapp

    You’ve got to feel bad for the DEP. They always make science based decisions, get absolutely beat over the head by the press/enviros/fractivists, and then upon further review are found to have been correct in their determinations.

    If folks had even 1/10th of a total understanding of what all these folks do on a day to day basis, even just in the gas drilling industry, they’d be in awe.

    • James

      All your fawning doesn’t bring the river back to previous health. I feel bad for your misplaced faith and naive opinion of politicized “science”; as if 98.9% or even 51% isn’t impaired. The current Administration is the exemplification of impotence and cronyism. Awe schmucks alright.

      • Michael S. Knapp

        This has nothing to do with the administration, as this article shows. EPA agreed with DEP. Or do you think the Obama administration is in on the conspiracy?

        But its worth knowing that the issues with the spots on the bass are most certainly NOT confined to the SR. The spots on these bass have been seen all over the state for years. My father is a professional fishing guide and prominent outdoor writer here in the state, its been an issue for a long time. There may well be some sort of issue that needs addressing, but impairment is a specific threshhold that triggers certain actions, and apparently that has not been met. DEP doesn’t make the rules, they merely operate under them.

        • Steve Todd

          Then declare the other places with impaired water as Impaired, so we can fix them too. You make yet another great case for why.

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