EDITORIAL: Seeking clarity? Get involved in river health

York Dispatch

The Susquehanna River is in trouble.

It might not look like it. The beautiful blue ribbon winds between York and Lancaster counties as it has for eons, supporting fish, eagles and other wildlife. People kayak in it, swim in it.

But the bucolic view isn't all it seems to be.

Within those waters are three major pollutants: nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment from agricultural runoff, acid mine damage and urban/suburban stormwater runoff, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

You can't see the pollution in there. You can't point to a single spot on the map and say, "That's where it came from." That's because it's coming from all around the river, from the fertilized farm fields and the lush suburban lawns around Pennsylvania.

That invisible pollution is "the highest fruit on the tree," according to Susquehanna River biologist Geoffrey Smith, who spoke to reporter David Weissman for his recent series on the river, Seeking Clarity.

Pennsylvania is supposed to be following the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's guide to bring the bay into standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 through watershed implementation plans developed by each of the six bay states and the District of Columbia.

But Pennsylvania is significantly off track in its goals, according to Harry Campbell, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Pennsylvania is especially far behind on forest buffers that keep pollution out of waterways; nutrient management to provide crops with nutrients at the right time and rate to make sure they are most effective; and urban infiltration practices to capture and store rainwater and storm runoff.

We're seeing some effects of the pollution already in the dramatic decrease of the smallmouth bass population in the river, John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission said.

If the state doesn't step up and clean up its water, the EPA has the authority to impose penalties under the Clean Water Act, which could mean forcing the state's wastewater treatment plants to increase their technology, which everyone in the state will end up paying for.

On the other side, if Pennsylvania does implement the blueprint, it could see economic growth of $6.2 billion each year, while maintaining current levels of pollution costs $1.8 billion each year, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Luckily, there are things each one of us can do to improve the health of the river.

•The Penn State Cooperative Extension is accepting applications for its new Master Watershed Steward Program, which begins in 2016 and will train volunteers in water conservation techniques.

Two information sessions for the York program will be held Saturday, Sept. 26, at Nixon Park Nature Center, from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The sessions are part of Watershed Alliance of York's 2015 Watershed Weekend.

The program fee is $100, and applications are being accepted through the end of this year. For more information, call the Penn State Cooperative Extension at (717) 840-7408.

•Another way to get involved is through the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Save Our Susquehanna campaign. The commission is raising money through donations, fishing license purchases and selling merchandise to help farmers implement conservation methods and prevent nutrient pollution from entering the river.

•Also, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has launched the Clean Water Counts campaign, creating a petition for citizens to sign to urge lawmakers to make greater effort in pollution preventing efforts and organizes volunteer opportunities for river cleanups.

•And if you want to learn more about the river, check out Weissman's Seeking Clarity under Special Reports at It will open your eyes to the problems you can help solve.