Susquehanna River back on watchdog group’s endangered list

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | April 12th, 2016 12:01 am

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Kayakers and canoers reach West Pittston during their journey on the Susquehanna river to Wilkes-Barre on Saturday, June 23, 2012, during Riverfest. and canoers reach West Pittston during their journey on the Susquehanna river to Wilkes-Barre on Saturday, June 23, 2012, during Riverfest.

The Susquehanna River is back on the Washington, D.C.-based conservation group American Rivers’ list of the nation’s most endangered rivers.

It last made the group’s list in 2011 over concerns that natural gas extraction threatened drinking water used by 6 million people along the 464-mile waterway.

The Susquehanna also topped the list in 2005 due to the amount of raw sewage ending up in the river, threats of funding cuts for clean-up efforts and a controversial proposal that was later dropped to install a seasonal inflatable dam on the river in the Wyoming Valley.

This time the group’s concern is the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna in northeastern Maryland, northwest of the spot where the river empties into the Chesapeake Bay. The dam was constructed in 1928.

According to American Rivers:

The Exelon Corporation is seeking a new 46-year federal license to operate Conowingo.

A pending bill in Congress would take away Maryland’s authority under the federal Clean Water Act to hold Exelon responsible for addressing its share of state water quality standards. The bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is now pending in the Senate.

The legislation would transfer the responsibility for addressing the dam’s impacts to the bay’s municipalities, farmers and citizens.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, both of the state’s Senators and seven of its eight U.S. Representatives have publicly opposed the bill.

American Rivers and its partners want the Senate to vote against the bill and for President Barack Obama to veto it if it reaches his desk. The conservation group said it has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members and supporters.

“We cannot let the hydropower industry avoid its responsibility for protecting the environment at the expense of our fish, wildlife, water quality and outdoor recreation,” American Rivers representative John Seebach said in a release. “For the millions who depend on the river and for generations to come, we must act now to save the Susquehanna.”

The Susquehanna is one of the longest rivers in America, flowing from Cooperstown, New York, and draining more than 27,000 square miles — including roughly half of the state of Pennsylvania — the group said.

The Susquehanna delivers more than half of the freshwater that flows into the Chesapeake and is one of the nation’s best smallmouth bass fisheries, it said.

First and second on this year’s endangered list were the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin in Alabama, Florida and Georgia and the San Joaquin River in California. Outdated water management was cited as the reason for those listings.

The group cites its 2005 listing of the Susquehanna as one of its success stories, saying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency within days of the listing dropped a proposal that would have allowed the dumping of partially treated sewage into the Susquehanna and other rivers.

Representatives of the natural gas industry disputed the 2011 threat of drinking water, maintaining ample precautions were taken to prevent contamination.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.