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Breaking: Federal Action Needed to Declare Susquehanna River Impaired

January 31, 2013

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has done a wonderful, courageous, and honest thing. They’ve confronted PA DEP head on, saying that because Pennsylvania DEP will not declare the Susquehanna River impaired, even while smallmouth bass are diseased and dying — and PA DEP will not reveal the science behind their refusal to declare the Susquehanna River impaired — the general public should go to the feds. Protecting Our Waters agrees and applauds.

The Sierra Club has done just that, and so should all of us who care about water, life, and the fish who depend on the Susquehanna River’s health — as well as the endangered Chesapeake Bay. Their Action Alert is right here.

Healthy Smallmouth Bass (Image: DNR / Cornell)

If you have just a second, go straight to that link, above the healthy fish. If you have another minute, read the Sierra Club’s appeal, below.

Fish health can tell us a lot about water quality.

The Susquehanna River, once home to prize winning and thriving smallmouth bass, is now filled with more and more sickly bass.

We’ve learned of studies of declining smallmouth population, diseased juvenile smallmouths, adults bearing nasty-looking lesions and unexplained spots, and problems with high pH, low dissolved oxygen and excessive nutrients.

With symptoms like this, we all should be worried!Tell the Environmental Protection Agency that this is NOT natural or acceptable!

Even Department of Environmental Protection’s Secretary Krancer admits: “we recognize that there are issues facing smallmouth bass, such as what is called young-of-year die-offs; lesions on adult bass; and inter-sexing of the species.” Yet DEP is unwilling to take the next step, that is, declaring the Susquehanna River as “impaired” water under the Clean Water Act. Fortunately, EPA has the authority to make this declaration on its own.

The PA Fish and Boat Commission has been pressing the state Department of Environmental Protection to designate the Susquehanna as impaired water under the Clean Water Act so that more work can be done to research and remedy the problems. Last May, 22 retired DEP water quality managers wrote to DEP Secretary, stating there was ample justification to make that determination. Local newspapers and organizations have joined in.[1]

Yet the DEP has refused to declare the Susquehanna waters impaired. Help us convince the EPA that the Susquehanna is in danger!

The time is ripe for EPA action because of other Chesapeake Bay issues. The river ultimately flows into the Chesapeake Bay, which is experiencing its own problems that some are blaming on upriver actions. The more Pennsylvania can examine the health of the river now, the better position the state will be in to address these other concerns.

Don’t wait! Please take action now to protect the Susquehanna.


Thomas Au,

Conservation Chair.

Sierra Club PA Chapter

Diseased juvenile smallmouth bass: “Report diseased bass from Susquehanna River” Photo credit:

Starting in 2004, I’ve seen young of the year smallmouth die in scary numbers. The tributaries seem to be better for them. I see apparently uninjured adult smallmouth laying dead on the bottom of the clear river each month, especially in the spring. I do see some with lesions, tattered and fungus infected tails, or the black spots that I’ve heard are harmless. The open red pus filled spots aren’t harmless though.”  Jeffrey Little of New Windsor, Maryland, who fishes the Susquehanna and its tributaries, submitted his report, which accompanies the photo above, on December 31, 2012.

You can read his, and others’  full report here.

Thank you for taking action. We urge everyone, as a second action, to call their Congressperson. This is SOS Susquehanna.

  1. jonik permalink
    January 31, 2013 12:31 pm

    This is a(nother) chance to discuss environmental threats with those who do not consider themselves “environmentalists”….or who think environmentalists are troublemaking hippie, Gaia-worshiping tree-huggers. They may not block logging roads. attend demonstrations, or sign petitions or write letters…but when it’s their hunting lands, campgrounds or hiking areas, and waterways for fishing and boating that are being threatened or destroyed, then they may pay attention and get active.

    So, casually send info to any “conservative” acquaintances who hunt or fish or do other outdoors things…and maybe keep some leaflets handy to leave in waiting rooms and at
    sporting goods stores and the like.

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      February 7, 2013 8:42 am

      Yes, the very first thing I did before posting this Action Alert was talk three times to the Forest Coalition and make sure they are sending alerts to their hunting and fishing members. They are. That is ongoing. AND i would urge folks to send the actual Action Alert link (included in this post), not just the info., to make it easier for people to write their federal Representative and the EPA. This Action Alert is directed to “Your Representative” and to Shawn Garvin. Shawn Garvin, head of EPA Region 3 based in Philadelphia, is responsible for PA including the Susquehanna River Basin. He’s has felt far too little heat and pressure. Everyone should pass on this particular Sierra Club Action link because it is a good one.
      Please note that the PA Fish and Boat Commission needs THANKS, as it is their head who has shown the tremendous backbone to go public and confront PA DEP for its inaction and secrecy. It’s because of their (PA FBC) courage and dedication that we have traction on this issue at all. Obviously EPA does have the power to act to declare Susquehanna River impaired, under the Clean Water Act, but will only do so if people pressure EPA directly and pressure Congress directly. That’s what PA FBC is asking us, we the people, to do — to join them in pressuring.
      From all the comments, I can’t tell if commenters have actually done the Action first? Please do the action… unless of course you have time to call and email your Rep and Shawn Garvin directly, which is even more effective. I’m actually going to do that myself right now.

  2. Dean H. Marshall permalink
    February 4, 2013 10:43 pm

    As we speak, dozens if not hundreds of Exceptional Value Headwaters in the mountains of Central and NE Pa. that eventually feed into the West and main branches of the Susquehanna are gradually being fouled with run-off from Frack Pads, Roadway spills, drips and leaks from Transport Trucking. Also, intentional releases from partial treatment facilities or the Landfill Leachates that are growing exponentially with the “progress” of Marcellus Gas Production. There are no detailed studies completed at this time that address the possibility that our streams and rivers are being poisoned. The Industry and even our PA DEP have been proven to be running intentional campaigns of denial and deception from the earliest stages of the Permitting Process, thru the regulation of construction, exploration, Pipeline right of way siting and safety, and the disposal of the massive amounts of chemical and radiation laced “Flowback” water. Yes…if Pa DEP refuses to Protect the Environment and our Health we best hope EPA can and will!

    • jonik permalink
      February 4, 2013 11:24 pm

      As I understand it, back in the late 1800s, J P Morgan promoted and got enacted the idea of “regulatory agencies” of government. His idea was to prevent the public from attacking and tar-and-feathering the CEOS and managers of corporate institutions. The idea was to have people THINK that they were protected from corporate crime by their sworn and paid “regulators”.
      Such people-protecting regulations never happened…unless a cat really got out of the bag, and then as little consequence as possible resulted. Take the BP oil spill stuff, for example. BP is, despite all that, still allowed to do business. If WE just don’t pay three parking tickets, we lose driving rights. Pollute the Gulf and cause billions in damages?…keep on truckin. It’s called “Bizness Uber Alles”.
      Regulatory agencies are designed to regulate As Little As Possible…just enough to keep people thinking they are protected. Just enough to keep the CEOs from being tarred and feathered by outraged, harmed, people.

      As long as one dime of private corporate economic influence is allowed within a mile of a Public Regulatory Official, including legislators…we have no chance of proper regulation.
      If DEP or EPA are actually doing anything good, it’s as minimal as possible, and only because Anti Fracking is close to, or over, a critical mass of support.

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      February 7, 2013 8:56 am

      Thanks Dean! Have you called EPA about this? What response did you get? 215-814-2900 is the main number at EPA HQ. I just spoke with them and asked the nice secretary why the Susquehanna River has not been declared impaired, under the Clean Water Act, and what EPA is planning to do to restore the Susquehanna River. They promised me a callback next week, as Shawn Garvin is unavailable today and his secretary is out also (!). I find the best tactic is always to be super polite, super assertive, and super clear. Please feel free to report here on phone calls and responses.

  3. February 5, 2013 3:23 pm

    Last night, we, created a petition at to urge action on the Susquehanna. Please share this link:

    Thank you,

    • jonik permalink
      February 5, 2013 10:21 pm

      Signing on with that Whitehouse thing isn’t easy…not to mention that many may not exactly want This Whitehouse to have any more info about us than they already have.
      Why have a petition so difficult to sign?
      For that matter, there’s no “send” place to even send this message.

      • February 5, 2013 10:54 pm

        Jonik, don’t be a whiney baby. If you want to help the Susquehanna, this is the highest profile petition out there and can have the greatest impact if we can get enough signatures. Do you think you’re gonna be a target for standing up fro the environment? Think again.

      • jonik permalink
        February 5, 2013 11:49 pm

        Just sayin’…that it’s counter productive to have difficult Sign In things to get onto a petition. It should be easy as pie, to max out participation. If I’m having trouble with it (being sort of computer literate for a good while) I can imagine that others are too…and are saying….it’s too much trouble.
        We’ve signed on-line petitions galore without the ordeal that this “Whitehouse” thing presents.

      • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
        February 6, 2013 9:45 am

        The action alert in the post about the Susquehanna River is easy as pie. And, it’s certainly going to take multiple alerts, over time, to move the feds to take action to protect the great and beautiful Susquehanna River watershed. In addition to trout, millions of people depend on the watershed. Perhaps we could focus on encouraging actions we believe to be constructive, or focus on creating new actions (through Change.Org, CREDO, or other organizations which specialize in “easy as pie” actions). The Susquehanna River is important, smallmouth bass are important, and let’s stay on track encouraging people to do what they can and are willing to do. Some people will take an action a day for weeks or years because they are super persistent, and those people make change. Some people are extraordinarily busy and only have one minute, and their actions matter too.

        But in any case this post has an original action connected with it which is very easy, so hopefully people won’t get distracted or forget that it’s there as an action option. Thanks to all for every action you take! Please keep reporting on what you’ve done, to encourage others. We have a courageous whistleblower, with backbone, over at PA Fish and Boat Commission, so everything we can do to back him up does matter.

  4. Eric Peters permalink
    February 6, 2013 7:46 pm

    I agree with Iris wholeheartedly. I also think that a discussion about the effectiveness of the tools that we employ in the struggle for a just and sustainable world is worth having.

    The utility of the “We the People” petition site was somewhat debatable when the requirement for receiving an “official response” was reaching a signature threshold of 25,000 within 30 days of the petition going live. Now that the Obama administration, as of January 15, has raised the requirement to 100,000 signatures the probability of getting any kind of response to this or similar petitions seems highly unlikely. Petitions that have not reached the required signature threshold after 30 days are removed from the site. Of the 98 “official responses” that have been issued to date only 2 are remotely related to issues of environmental protection. Responses are posted in the petition section of the White House site and emailed to those who signed it, but it’s not like the administration holds a press conference, issues a statement to the media or puts the response up on the front page.

    What makes online petition sites like CREDO or Citizen Speak useful is that they facilitate the broadest participation possible, do not require people to jump through hoops and the message is delivered to the intended recipients regardless of the number of signatures. They also enable people to apply pressure directly to federal and state agencies and individual representatives of government. Applying pressure to the likes of the PFBC or flooding Michael Krancers’ inbox with 100,000 emails, is more likely to produce change, in my opinion, than hoping the administration will be moved by our words in the unlikely event that we somehow manage to reach the new signature threshold.

    Showing up at the presidents doorstep on February 17 for what is sure to be a historic mobilization for climate justice is another story altogether. More info here:

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