Chesapeake Bay Foundation urges action on Susquehanna

Sean Philip Cotter

In recent years, the Susquehanna River has been home to an inordinate number of smallmouth bass who are diseased, dying or born with birth defects such as deformed genitals, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

On Thursday evening, as always, the wide river rumbled between Wrightsville and Lancaster County's borough of Columbia, a setting sun's rays washing the Route 462 bridge's broad arches in golden light.

A crowd of about 70 met only a stone's throw from the river's banks Thursday night in the John Wright Restaurant, 234 N. Front St., for a dinner event hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The goal of the dinner event was for interested members of the public, legislators and interest groups to mingle and hear a few presentations about the state of water in and around York County, said CBF spokesman B.J. Small. Even the lower Susquehanna is very important for his organization because the river carries so much of the water that ultimately ends up in the bay, he said.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed area includes much of central and northern Pennsylvania, also stretching through most of Maryland and into central New York, parks of Delaware, much of Virginia and eastern West Virginia.

The organization's urging the state Department of Environmental Protection to recommend that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classify the river as impaired.

The designation as impaired would open up resources and set a more stable path for action to be taken, he said.

Those in attendance heard from Wrightsville teenager Brynn Kelly, who, at age 17 last year, wrote a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf urging the York County Democrat to make the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint a greater priority in Pennsylvania.

The blueprint is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's reference to a combination of the Environmental Protection Agency's bay total maximum daily load, established in 2010 to reduce water pollution, and subsequent watershed implementation plans developed by each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia to implement state-specific cleanup plans.

"It's a big deal to me to advocate for clean water," she said.

Brynn Kelly speaks at a Chesepeake Bay Foundation event in the John Wright Restaurant.

Felicia Dell, the director of the York County Planning Commission, also spoke, talking about the county's efforts to cut down on harmful stormwater runoff. She said her commission had been given the commissioners' OK to go ahead with drawing up how a countywide stormwater authority would work; the commission is in the process of putting that together now. After all, it's not just the river that's at issue, she said — more than 350 miles of other streams, rivers and creeks in the county already have been deemed impaired.

"It's a bit of a hard sell depending on where you are in York County," she said of convincing everyone that the authority would be able to handle the issue better.

She said she believes the authority would be able to help all parts of the county more uniformly stay ahead of EPA regulations.

State Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, attended the dinner along with Reps. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, and Kristin Phillips-Hill, R- York Township. Saylor spoke briefly, talking about how the York County house delegation is sponsoring a bill that would make May "clean water month" in an effort to raise further awareness for the issue.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation executive director Harry Campbell said the designation would be based on the damage done to the river's smallmouth bass population. Many have died or become diseased, he said, and there have been reports of intersex fish, which in this case means male fish whose testicles contain eggs rather than sperm, rendering them sterile.

Campbell said getting the river designated as such would provide more stability in the future for dealing with the river's problems.

"Listing it as impaired ensures ... the issue will not become a political football," he said.

— Reach Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.