Last week I wrote about the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s (FBC) request to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to officially designate the Susquehanna River as polluted. On Monday, DEP secretary Michael Krancer turned that request.
FBC executive director, John Arway, wrote to Krancer on April 8 and enclosed extensive information that documented widespread disease and die-offs of immature bass, new evidence of disease in adult bass, the presence of bass with both male and female characteristics and a total failure of fingerling shad to successfully migrate down the river to the Chesapeake. Also included was water quality data that showed the river did not meet the standards for acidity or dissolved oxygen in a 98-mile stretch from Sunbury to the Holtwood Dam.
In October of 2010, the FBC recognized that the river was not meeting the Clean Water Act’s “fishable and swimmable” standard and took action to try to protect the recreational bass fishery that was worth $2.7 million to the local economy in 2007. The Commission imposed a temporary “catch and release” restriction – anglers can catch the bass, but they can't keep them. In April 2011, the Commission made the catch and release restriction permanent. In September 2011 the Commission closed the Susquehanna to bass fishing during the spring spawning season.
But what the FBC cannot do is issue regulations to legally control the pollution that is sickening an killing fish. So John Arway asked the man who can, DEP secretary Krancer, and Krancer has said no.
Officially listing the Susquehanna as polluted or “impaired” would start a process of identifying the sources of the pollution and end up putting the river on a “pollution diet” that would set legally-enforceable goals for reducing the pollution. Krancer in his response to Arway said that the pollution that DEP knows about isn’t enough to warrant an impaired designation, and DEP doesn’t know what pollution is causing the fish to sicken and die so they can’t establish goals for reducing it. Krancer then implies that Arway needs to be more cooperative.
John Arway is doing all he can and is begging for cooperation. But he is also asking DEP for the legal tools that will be needed to save a river in extreme distress. As any bass angler knows, the Susquehanna is becoming unfishable. And that is unacceptable.