Imagine, if you will, that your income suddenly declined by 68%. Or your overall health. Or your vocabulary. Or your ability to walk. (Ask me about that one). Your life would drastically change...and not for the better.
According to the experts at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, with a current ranking of 32 out of a possible score of 100 (which was the assumed quality of the Bay in 1608), that is the current condition of the Chesapeake Bay. And as its largest tributary, the Susquehanna River is not too far behind. Or, viewed another way, perhaps the Susquehanna is the biggest contributor to all of the D's and F's on the CBF's 2012 scorecard displayed above.
I am not afraid to paddle my kayak in the Susquehanna. Or take others along for the ride. Or catch and release fish; I just won't consume anything I catch. I am not afraid to wade or swim in the river. However, there are sections along the river that I would probably avoid at all costs. Even using the highest quality portable water filtration devices out there - and boiling it for hours - I would never drink water taken directly from the river unless my life depended on it. And although formerly one of my favorites, I recently stopped buying Chobani yogurt once I saw they were withdrawing water from aquifers in the Marcellus Shale region. That is my personal decision as a consumer, and not a slam against their product.
People are constantly dumping who knows what into the river...and elsewhere within the Susquehanna's watershed. Some get caught, some don't. In the past decade, the Susquehanna has twice been named the most endangered river in America. That's endangered...not polluted. As I was intimately involved in both designations, from nomination through release, I'll stop there.
The PFBC has been issuing fish consumption advisories for many years; primarily for mercury and PCB contamination. For those unfamiliar with the concepts of bioaccumulation and bioconcentration, take a few minutes to get up to speed here.
I have been plunking away, i.e. "blogging" on the internet since at least 1999...perhaps earlier as I truly remember firing up an online journal about the Susquehanna shortly after I bought my first kayak in 1997. I have been fishing PA's waters for over 40 years, and I was studying the river in the mid-70's while in college. When I recently read a statement attributed to someone assumed to know something about the river saying there are no "toxins" in the river just because there is a significant mayfly hatch, I wanted to wretch.
“When we get a (mayfly) hatch that puts thousands of them on the Market Street Bridge, that’s a sign of good aquatic habitat,” Cotrone said. “Mayflies wouldn’t be there if there were toxins in the water.”
The presence of mayflies and other benthic macroinvertebrates, and other biota like crayfish for that matter, are used by scientists as indicators of overall water quality. If you want a crash course on the EPT Index, check out this document. Their presence is not an indication there are no toxic substances in the river, either man made contaminants/chemicals or naturally produced toxins. There are a myriad of toxic substances in the river; just not enough to wipe out the mayflies in the Wyoming Valley. However, everything has its tipping point. Everything.
Folks...I could go on and on here. In my opinion and by definition; the Susquehanna is polluted. The Susquehanna is impaired, and the Susquehanna is a far, far cry from the river that existed some 398 years ago when Etienne Brule first cruised its waters from Sayre, PA to the Chesapeake in 1615.
From the 2011 American Rivers' Most Endangered press release:
“The Susquehanna is one of the most ancient rivers on Earth. In its current state, it is a far cry from the pristine and primeval watershed that existed only a few centuries ago. The threat posed by the natural gas industry and horizontal hydrofracturing will eclipse the environmental legacy of the lumber and coal-mining industries combined, and as a long-time advocate for the protection of the Susquehanna, I believe we must call for an immediate moratorium on all water withdrawals and all natural gas drilling until the technology and legislation catches up with the desire and need to exploit these fossil-fuel resources,”
said Don Williams, Susquehanna River Sentinel.
My three children in the Susquehanna near Quick's Bend, PA