Again, Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission asks for Susquehanna River to be declared ‘impaired’
The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission recently filed a letter with the state Department of Environmental Protection disputing DEP’s decision not to declare the Susquehanna River ‘impaired.’
John Arway, executive director of the commission, stopped short of asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to overrule DEP on the designation for the troubled waterway. But he made it clear that he would like to see federal officials intervene.
Once considered one of the best riverine smallmouth bass fisheries on the planet, the river now has a diseased bass population, victim of pollution from agricultural and urban runoff, inadequate sewage treatment and mysterious chemicals.
Annual blooms of filamentous algae – not long ago unknown on the Susquehanna – are now common on the river.
The Fish & Boat Commission has been lobbying DEP for years to declare the river impaired, a designation that would unlock state and federal funds to start a timed process to abate pollution and repair the river.
“The comment period closed on Sept. 12 for DEP’s record, which is why we wrote the letter we did, and then DEP will have to either adjust what they propose or not change it and submit that to EPA,” he said.
“We are making our case to DEP, we will continue to make our case to EPA. Officials in that federal agency will actually approve or not accept DEP’s submission on the river.”
Arway noted that EPA told DEP in writing last year that the state needed to make a decision one way or the other about the status of the Susquehanna, and that DEP still clings to its position that more study is needed to make a decision.
“They kicked the can down the road again on the river, so I don’t know how EPA is going to handle DEP’s decision,” Arway said.
“I don’t want to second guess what is going to happen here – DEP leaders might impair the river themselves after getting our comments and others, but if not, we’d like to see EPA step in.
“We want a decision to start the clock and release the funds necessary for us to repair the river and also start getting closer to the pollution goals that we are obligated to.”
Arway said he is frustrated because the commission doesn’t understand what more information DEP needs to make a decision.
“This debate really is about what standard of proof – scientific standard or legal standard, near certainty or preponderance of evidence – they need,” he said.
“If it would be preponderance of the evidence, we have already determined the likely causes of these sores and lesions appearing on the young fish. I pointedly asked DEP what standard of proof they are using, and they don’t know.”
In the end, federal officials may have to get involved in the Susquehanna debate and decide the river’s status because it is the major tributary to the troubled Chesapeake Bay.
EPA has set pollution-reduction goals for each of the states in the bay drainage and Pennsylvania was recently reported to be 60 percent behind TMDL – or total maximum daily load – allowances for its streams.
DEP has been actively working with the U.S. EPA to develop a strategy for dealing with the bay watershed issues, according to a department spokesman. ”We will begin developing the Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan to continue progress on meeting our bay watershed obligations,” she said.