The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has released a new report compiling the evidence supporting the argument that the state's Department of Environmental Protection ought to declare the Susquehanna River "impaired."
Much of that evidence had become known to the public bit by bit throughout 2012 as a variety of experts tried to explain maladies principally affecting the smallmouth bass. Altogether, though, the Fish and Boat Commission and its allies make a convincing argument that officials at DEP ought to seriously consider.
The most compelling evidence may be the findings of U.S. Geological Survey scientist Vicki Blazer, who documented the presence of pharmaceuticals called endocrine disruptors in fish.
Officials at DEP have maintained that it makes no sense to describe the river as impaired until there is clear evidence that pollution is causing problems. Blazer's findings may provide the best evidence yet.
The Fish and Boat Commission documented how bacterial infections devastated the young bass population in five of the seven years between 2005 and 2011. Those problems were only a fraction of the alarming developments. Many smallmouth bass in the middle section of the Susquehanna River bear the sexual organs of both genders and in 2012 anglers reported that many bass had unsightly blotches.
The challenge facing environmental regulators is that once they agree that the Susquehanna is impaired, the state must develop a plan to solve the problem. Knowing that pharmaceuticals are present in the affected fish is a piece of the puzzle. The drugs may not be the only factor at play and establishing where the pharmaceuticals are originating may be a challenge. In addition, developing a strategy to prevent the drugs from entering the river may be costly and extremely difficult.
The Fish and Boat Commission and the lobbying groups who have raised the alarm about the condition of the Susquehanna River and the threat it poses to the future of the smallmouth bass population are providing an important public service. The Department of Environmental Protection has an obligation to the public to explain what it knows about the condition of the Susquehanna River and what is preventing the agency from coming up with a solution.
The number of experts who agree that the Susquehanna River ought to be identified as "impaired" is growing. If the Department of Environmental Protection is going to continue rebuffing those arguments, then the agency must provide a clear answer for what is proposes to do, instead.