WASHINGTON – The Susquehanna River was listed as the most-endangered river in the nation Wednesday, with raw sewage from aging treatment plants threatening the river that feeds the Chesapeake Bay.
The report by American Rivers called on Pennsylvania and Maryland authorities to work together to fund cleanup and prevention efforts for the river, which contributes significantly to bay pollution.
It also called on Congress to reject Bush administration funding cuts and to increase funding to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
The Susquehanna was the only one of the 10 endangered rivers on the list that was in the mid-Atlantic.
“The American Rivers report puts an appropriate focus on some of the most difficult issues facing our environment,” said Charlie Young, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. “We hope that focus will attract more resources to help us meet our goals of clean waters in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay.”
Maryland Department of the Environment spokeswoman Julie Oberg said the department would not comment on the report before it could critically analyze the data and criteria used by American Rivers.
She noted, however, that the report focused mainly on sewage flow into the river. Oberg said that accounts for only 11 percent of the nutrients in the Susquehanna.
“Overall, we are seeing an improvement in the Susquehanna River,” Oberg said.
She said that a recent department analysis of water from the lower Susquehanna showed that portion of the river was meeting water quality standards, as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Based on that analysis, Oberg said the department may take the lower tidal portion of the Susquehanna off the list of water bodies for which the EPA sets total maximum daily loads for pollutants of concern.
William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the notion that the state might take the Susquehanna off that list “is a nightmare.” He accused the state department of trying to declare, with the stroke of a pen, that the pollution in Maryland’s portion of the river does not exist.
Baker said the Susquehanna contributes 40 percent of the nitrogen pollution in the bay, and that millions of pounds of pollution, sediment and human and animal waste flow from the river into the bay every year.
The Susquehanna’s headwaters are in New York, but it runs hundreds of miles through Pennsylvania before entering Maryland and flowing into the bay. Baker said that in order to combat pollution in the river — what he called a “human health and environmental nightmare” — Maryland and Pennsylvania need to work together.
“Maryland has a lot to lose,” Baker said, and Pennsylvania has a lot to contribute, noting that pollution that enters the river in Pennsylvania ends up in the northern portion of the Chesapeake Bay.
The report highlighted poorly treated and raw sewage overflows from ailing wastewater treatment systems as a serious problem facing the Susquehanna in the next 12 months.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, used the release of the report Wednesday to tout his bill, which would prevent the EPA from implementing a policy that would let more partially treated sewage be discharged to the environment, in a process called “blending.”
According to American Rivers, untreated human sewage contains many harmful bacteria, parasites and viruses that pose a significant public health risk.
Young said he hoped some good could come of the Susquehanna’s inclusion on the endangered rivers list.
“The report doesn’t need to be seen as a bad thing,” he said, noting that any additional attention could bring with it resources to clean up the river.
-30- CNS 04-13-05