Pennsylvania

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Feds approve Pennsylvania’s water quality report

The Susquehanna River flowing past the state Capitol building in Harrisburg.

The Susquehanna River flows past the state Capitol building in Harrisburg.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given its approval to Pennsylvania’s water quality monitoring assessment. The bi-annual report is required under the federal Clean Water Act.

Pennsylvania has six major river basins within its borders. The 2014 report includes two major changes to river listings: the Monongahela River, which was listed as impaired for potable water use, was removed from the impairment list. The lower main stem of the Susquehanna River will be added to the fish consumption impairment list for channel catfish larger than 20 inches due to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, the status of the main stem of the Susquehanna River has been a hot topic in recent years, as anglers have discovered young smallmouth bass with open sores and lesions– threatening the state’s $3.4 billion recreational fishing industry.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has spent years studying the problem but still doesn’t know what’s causing it. So far, it has not listed the Susquehanna as officially impaired– a decision supported by the EPA. The DEP did not respond to requests to comment for this story, but a spokesman previously stated the agency fears retaliation from polluters if it lists the river as impaired.

John Arway, head of Pennsylvania’s Fish and Boat Commission, believes the river should be listed as impaired and has publicly clashed with DEP over the issue. He says this latest listing of impairment for catfish consumption is unrelated to the bass issue.

Earlier this summer, Arway wrote to the EPA asking for its help studying the bass.

“We’ve been collecting data since 2005, and we weren’t any closer to an answer in 2014,” says Arway. “For me that was unacceptable.”

He says the EPA responded by bringing in staff and a new water analysis tool to examine the issue.

“I’m optimistic we’ll be using the best science we have to finally answer the decision about whether the river’s impaired or not,” says Arway.

He expects preliminary results by fall 2015, which will inform the state’s next water quality report, due in 2016.

 

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