Latest Pennsylvania Water Quality Assessment Finds 40% of Waterways, Including Parts of Susquehanna, in Violation

Bay Journal article (2019-06-06) reported that 40% of Pennsylvania’s 85,000 miles of waterways, including a stretch of the Susquehanna River, are in violation of the state’s water quality standards. The primary causes are agricultural runoff, acid mine drainage, and stormwater runoff. The findings are based on the state’s latest water quality report for 2018. If the report is accepted by the US Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania must create a plan to address the violations. The state is already struggling to fund its commitments under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load and the additional violations identified in the water quality report would require even more funding to address.

From the article:

Not surprisingly, agricultural runoff of soil, nutrients and chemicals are the cause of the most miles of impaired waterways across the state — 5,741 in all. …

The amount of waterways impacted by agricultural runoff is actually 680 miles fewer than the last water quality assessment in 2016. …

But the decline described in the report may be partly due to more accurate stream assessments rather than a direct result of stream improvements, said Dustin Shull, environmental group manager for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The second-largest source of poor water quality was runoff from abandoned mines….The state reported that 5,575 miles of waterways are impacted by such runoff, a slight reduction from 2016.

Stormwater runoff, the third major source of pollution, picks up fertilizers, soil, pesticides and other contaminants and flushes them into streams. The amount of impacted waterways was 3,066 miles, up by 164 from 2016. Again, Shull said the figures may not mean a worsening of the problem but rather better assessment methods.

The article noted that the 2018 report included assessments not previously conducted, including on the health of aquatic life in the lower and middle sections of the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna assessment also revealed increased levels of “contaminants of emerging concern,” which includes pollutants such as hormones, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides.