DEP Releases Water Quality Assessment Showing 40% Of PA Streams Polluted By Agriculture, Abandoned Mines, Stormwater Runoff

On April 18, the Department of Environmental Protection released its 2018 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, the biennial comprehensive analysis of the water quality status of the more than 86,000 miles of streams and rivers and more than 160,000 acres of lakes in Pennsylvania required by the federal Clean Water Act.

The report evaluates whether waterbodies across Pennsylvania are achieving the water standards that protect clean water. Streams, lakes, rivers, and other water resources are evaluated on how well each waterway is meeting its assessed use, such as drinking water supply, aquatic life, recreation, and fish consumption.

The report shows agriculture, abandoned mines and stormwater runoff remain the most significant sources of pollution causing the impairment of water quality for aquatic life, the same sources of pollution as in the last assessment in 2016.

Agricultural runoff impairs 5,741 miles of streams (6,421 miles in 2016); abandoned mine runoff impairs 5,576 miles (5,595 miles in 2016); and stormwater runoff impairs 3,066 miles (2,902 miles in 2016).

Over all, about 40 percent of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams have impaired water quality for one or more reasons.

DEP is accepting public comments on the report from April 20 until June 4.  Click Here to submit comments through DEP’s eComment webpage or email comments to: Written comments can be mailed to DEP Policy Office, Rachel Carson Office Building, PO Box 2063, Harrisburg, PA 17105.  (formal notice)

 Lower Susquehanna

Thanks to new scientific analysis techniques pioneered by DEP staff, the 2018 Integrated Report includes, for the first time, aquatic life use assessments of the middle and lower reaches of the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers.

DEP has determined that the Juniata River from the confluence of the Raystown Branch in Huntingdon County to the mouth at Duncannon, Perry County and the Susquehanna River from the confluence of the Juniata River at Duncannon to the Route 462 bridge near Columbia, Lancaster County are both impaired for aquatic life use due to high pH. DEP is currently evaluating the sources of impairment.

These impairment determinations are consistent with the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) goal to reduce nutrients and sediment.

The 2016 Integrated Water Quality Assessment listed the Lower Susquehanna as impaired for recreation use only, not for aquatic life (page 34).

The report also notes that smallmouth bass population levels have returned to near-record levels in previous areas of concern.

Collaborative work between DEP, the Fish and Boat Commission, and several other partners identified the two most likely causes of the smallmouth bass disease and population decline as endocrine-disrupting compounds and pathogens, such as Largemouth Bass Virus and parasites.

The aquatic life use impairments on the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers are based on physiochemical water quality and benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring data. These assessments have been arrived at independently of the decline and subsequent recovery of smallmouth bass populations in the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers over the past decade and a half.

“DEP remains committed to continuing work on the Susquehanna River, and has completed extensive work resulting in a new assessment methodology that will increase our ability to monitor Pennsylvania’s waterways,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “For the first time, we’ve been able to assess the middle and lower reaches of the Susquehanna River. Additionally, this is the first fully digital interactive Integrated Report, making it the most user-friendly and transparent Integrated Report ever created.”

Click Here for a copy of the full report.  Click Here to watch a video of the announcement with Secretary McDonnell, Dustin Shull, Environmental Group Manager and Josh Lookenbill, Environmental Group Manager.

To check out the water quality in streams near you, an interactive map of Pennsylvania is also available.  With this mapping tool, users can identify individual stream/river segments and any applicable use assessments and their causes.

Restore PA

“Clean water is vital to the health and safety of Pennsylvanians, our wildlife, and our land,” McDonnell said. “As we continue to protect and restore water quality in Pennsylvania, the commonwealth’s support is critical to funding restoration projects. Restore Pennsylvania prioritizes environmental protection in its infrastructure revitalization plans and would direct funding so that Pennsylvanians can better protect and fully enjoy our natural resources.”

Restore Pennsylvania is a statewide plan to aggressively address the commonwealth's vital infrastructure needs, including protecting waterways by funding restoration projects. Funded through a commonsense severance tax, Restore Pennsylvania is the only plan that will help make Pennsylvania a leader in the 21st century.

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[Posted: April 18, 2019]


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