By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
HARRISBURG - The quality of water in the Susquehanna River is getting a closer look.
The state’s Department of Environmental Protection on Friday unveiled a plan to intensify studying and sampling at dozens of locations in the river basin this year.
DEP’s efforts will include analysis of water quality, water flow, sediment, pesticides, hormones, invertebrates, fish tissue and other areas.
Portions of the study will focus on areas of the river or its tributaries where smallmouth bass reproduce.
“The scientists and experts here at DEP have, quite simply, done an incredible amount of work on this complex issue over the past few years,” said DEP Secretary Mike Krancer, who will leave his job April 15. “Our staff will continue this comprehensive, fact-based approach, working with our partners at the Fish and Boat Commission, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the U.S. Geological Survey.”
“The actual cause or causes of the issues we have seen with the smallmouth bass have not yet been determined or linked to any particular water quality issue,” he said. “But DEP is dedicated to working with our partners to find the answer.”
The agency’s sampling efforts will be focused along the Susquehanna at Marietta in Lancaster County, City Island in Harrisburg and Sunbury and along the Juniata River at the Lewistown Narrows and Newport. Staff will test dissolved oxygen, temperature and acidity at several sites. Samples of fish, mussels and insects, such as mayflies, will also be collected.
“Sampling across the Susquehanna River basin allows us to identify and accurately measure the effects of various influences on the river. This research will provide data and help us decide what next steps, if any, are needed to protect our waterways,” Krancer said.
A January federal report found toxic contamination remains widespread in the Chesapeake Bay, with severe impacts in some places, which health and environmental advocates say lends support to their push in Maryland for legislative action on pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.
Despite some cleanup, the health of the bay has not significantly improved.
None of these findings surprised Dr. William Yingling, of Freeburg, who has been fishing the West Branch of the river for years, and who is extremely concerned about the health of the fish and those who enjoy recreation on the river.
“What did interest me about the study,” Yingling said, “was the thinning of the eggs of shore birds. If you remember, this was the problem caused by DDT that almost caused the extinction of bald eagles. I was wondering when it might appear again. People may not care about smallmouth bass (or their own health) but just let the eagles begin to disappear again. . . .”
What has frustrated Yingling and other area environmentalists is that previous reports have called on federal, state and local governments to accelerate research into what threats chemical contamination may pose to the bay, and to step up efforts to reduce such toxic pollution that is increasingly linked to intersex fish seen in the Potomac River.
That’s the same problem seen in the smallmouth bass population in the Susquehanna River.
Similarly pesticides have been found in eggs of predatory birds at concentrations associated with embryo lethality.
According to the report, several studies are cited in which PCB concentrations in bald eagle eggs may have been high enough to contribute to the failure to hatch.
Even though PCBs were banned years ago, residues linger.