What’s Happening Upstream – Above the Dam



EPA to Step Up Federal Actions in PA for Water Pollution
EPA News Release, April 18, 2022

Pennsylvania’s Bay Cleanup Plan Falls Short of Target, PA has 90 Days to Submit Improved Plan, Lacks Sufficient Legislative Funding and Programs
EPA, April 18, 2022

“After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviewed Pennsylvania’s updated plan to address pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it found that the plan falls short of those goals largely due to the lack of resources provided by the state. Approximately 25,000 miles of streams in the state – more than the Earth’s circumference – are considered unsuitable for fishing, recreation or other uses.”  

What’s missing are improved manure control policies and dependable state funding for agriculture cost-share programs for farmers. These are measures other states have had for a long time.” 

Pennsylvania will now have 90 days to submit an improved final plan that meets its targets.  Starting this week, EPA will be taking stronger actions statewide to promote clean-up progress, such as increased agriculture and municipal stormwater inspections, increased permit oversight, heightened enforcement actions and a redirection of certain federal funds to ensure they are spent more efficiently in Pennsylvania. 

All quotes from EPA article cited above

Bay Program figures show PA led region in 2020 cleanup progress
Bay Journal, January 27, 2022


On December 14th 2019, the U.S. EPA released its evaluations of the Final Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.  

The EPA is taking no enforcement action against Pennsylvania, whose Phase III WIP has been heavily criticized by downstream states and NGOs for being feckless on nitrogen reductions, underfunded and out of sync with PA county plans.  The EPA gave another pass to the state (PA) with the largest pollution loads to account for within the Chesapeake Bay, which does not bode well for protecting Maryland’s ongoing efforts and investments downstream. 

Upstream Archives

While the state of Maryland aggressively implements the flawed Bay TMDL (pollution diet) through costly mandates on local governments and increased taxes and fees, our upstream watershed neighbor and largest source of Bay pollution fiddles.  Reports of significant progress in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania towards reducing pollution in the Susquehanna River that ultimately finds its way into the Chesapeake Bay are isolated and overstated.  The media accounts listed and linked here highlight just how little progress is being made above the Conowingo Dam to save the Bay.  As you review these articles or any account of environmental problems with the Susquehanna River, be ever mindful of these basic facts:

  • water flows downhill;
  • more than 50% of the freshwater into the Bay comes from the Susquehanna River;
  • the most significant stormwater management pond in the Bay watershed (the Conowingo Dam reservoir) has lost its capacity to trap Susquehanna River nutrients and sediment; and
  • there is no responsible party, plan or funding to dredge or otherwise address the 84+ years of nutrients and sediments accumulated above the Dam in order to regain trapping capacity.

Ten Worst States for Water Pollution
July 11, 2014, Sara Jerome, Wateronline.com

Intersex fish found in three Pennsylvania river basins
June 30, 2014, Chesapeake Bay News

Chemically impacted smallmouth bass found in more Pennsylvania waters, U.S. Geological Survey reports
June 30, 2014, Marcus Schneck, Penn Live

Toomey, Thompson join against EPA ‘overreach’ in watershed
June 24, 2014, Marcie Schellhammer, The Bradford Era

Pa. and the Bay
June 20, 2014, The Tribune-Review

Sick smallmouth bass spur effort to seek impaired status for Susquehanna
June 8, 2013, Roba Kobel, Bay Journal

The Susquehanna River – too big to ail?
June 17, 2013, Patriot-News Editorial Board, Penn Live

Susquehanna Watershed Nutrient Loading a Critical Concern, In Midst of EPA Report
May 14, 2013, Business Wire

County agency declines role in Speedwell Forge sediment cleanup
May 14, 2013, Laura Knowles, Lancaster Online

For a collection of articles on the issues involved above the Conowingo Dam, click here for Lancaster Online’s relevant database.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has zealously advocated for an increase in restoration efforts of the Lower Susquehanna’s water quality.  Click here to visit their website to gain insight on this issue, including efforts by the PFBC to engage their fellow Pennsylvania and federal partners.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Boundary
Chesapeake Bay Watershed Boundary. Courtesy USGS Fact Sheet FS 2006-3046.

A satellite view of the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, PA, on September 10 shows the high levels of sediment that are being carried toward Chesapeake Bay. Courtesy: Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite.

The Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna, joined by the Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 18 conservation groups throughout the Chesapeake Bay region, petitioned for intervention with FERC for the Conowingo Dam relicensing.  The Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna’s, joined by the Waterkeepers Chesapeake, motion to intervene can be seen here.  The article below provides a summary of their filing:

Seeking to lessen impacts of the Conowingo Dam on the bay
York Daily Record, Michael Helfrich, July 19, 2013

aqua susquehanna 21sep04
High suspended-sediment concentrations after Hurricane Ivan (September, 2004). NASA Terra satellite image taken September 21, 2004, shortly after Hurricane Ivan hit the Chesapeake Bay.

Flooding in the Susquehanna River Watershed

Click here to learn more about the historical repeat flooding incidents inflicting the Susquehanna River Watershed. Tropical Storm Agnes (1972) set the record crest for the Susquehanna River at 32.57 feet. Tropical Storm Lee (September 10, 2011) had a crest of 26.2 feet, which is the fourth highest on record.

sediment sources in the Bay watershed fig 1

Courtesy of USGS “Sediment Sources and Transport in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed”.