Kayaking on the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg. Photo credit © Miguel Angel de la Cueva/iLCPA kayaker enjoys the Susquehanna near Harrisburg. Photo © Miguel Angel de la Cueva/iLCP

The Susquehanna River

The Chesapeake Bay is essentially the Susquehanna River's valley floor. It is the tidal portion of the Susquehanna. The river and the Bay are two integral parts of one ecosystem. continued below

Map of the Susquehanna River drainage basin

Before There Was A Chesapeake Bay

Twenty thousand years ago, during the last Ice Age, sea level was about 330 ft. lower than it is today. At that time, the Susquehanna flowed from the edge of the polar ice cap (in what is now north central Pennsylvania) down to the Atlantic. All of the rivers in what is now the Chesapeake drainage basin flowed into it.

As the earth warmed up and sea level rose, the Atlantic backed up into the Susquehanna's valley floor, forming the Chesapeake Bay and the tidal portions of rivers like the Potomac and the Nanticoke.

The Susquehanna's large drainage basin, or watershed, means the pollution that flows into Pennsylvania rivers and streams ultimately finds its way to the Chesapeake Bay. 

The Mighty Susquehanna Is Ailing

Many of Pennsylvania's waterways suffer from an overload of pollution from many different sources, including agriculture and stormwater. In 2010, a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey reported that 90 percent of male smallmouth bass in a sampling from the Lower Susquehanna contained immature egg cells. The findings continue. In fact, fishermen and scientists alike have been finding sores and lesions on smallmouth bass for more than a decade.

One intervention that could be instrumental in improving the river's health is including it in the Environmental Protection Agency's 303(d) Impaired Waters List. This list includes rivers and streams across the country that are significantly impaired and designates them for additional study and superior restoration investments and ensures that each of these waterways will have a recovery plan.

CBF has been petitioning Pennsylvania's governors and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to include the Lower Susquehanna in its 303(d) recommendations for several years. Although DEP has increased study of the river's impairment, it still has not recommended inclusion on the Impaired Waters List. Meanwhile, the health of the smallmouth bass fishery continues to suffer.

The Susquehanna River is the source of drinking water for millions of Pennsylvanians and is an economic engine for tourism and recreation. Though the river's health is making progress under Pennsylvania's Clean Water Blueprint, agricultural runoff, acid mine drainage, and polluted urban runoff continue to contaminate the Susquehanna, its tributaries, and the Chesapeake Bay.

In the News

09.22.16 - PA fish official battles other agencies over status of Susquehanna

09.22.16 - The Susquehanna River is our outdoor classroom

09.22.16 - Saving the Susquehanna River

09.16.16 - Foundation requesting $20 million for Susquehanna

09.15.16 - Chesapeake Bay Foundation calls for $20 million to fight pollution in Susquehanna River basin

08.09.16 - Drought having negative impact on fishing

08.09.16 - DEP ruling impaired

08.07.16 - Agency needs more data to declare the Susquehanna 'impaired'

08.03.16 - Charting a course for clean water

08.03.16 - DEP river report worries outdoor enthusiasts, activists

08.03.16 - Editorial: River health is on us

08.02.16 - Pennsylvania declares Susquehanna stretch impaired for recreation

08.02.16 - State DEP declares portion of Susquehanna River 'impaired'

08.01.16 - State again refuses to list Susquehanna as impaired because of bass decline

07.29.16 - Susquehanna ailing but not impaired, Pennsylvania says

07.17.16 - Susquehanna cleanup stalled

06.24.16 - Susquehanna River deals with number of issues

06.17.16 - Video Chesapeake Bay Foundation addresses issues with Susquehanna River

06.17.16 - Video Agencies find common concern in Susquehanna

05.11.16 - Susquehanna aside, good news about Bay

04.17.16 - Decision on diseased Susquehanna bass delayed

04.17.16 - Chesapeake Bay Foundation urges action on Susquehanna

04.13.16 - Susquehanna named one of country's 'most endangered rivers'

04.13.16 - Susquehanna named third most-endangered river in U.S. by environmental group

03.15.16 - Let's Heal the Sick Susquehanna

03.08.16 - Sexual oddities plague bass in Chesapeake Bay tributaries

01.03.16 - Study of sick bass in Susquehanna cites endocrine disrupters

Related Stories
  • CBF to PA DEP: "Add the Susquehanna River to Impaired Waters List" Recent declines in the Susquehanna's smallmouth bass health and population, along with water quality data suggesting poor conditions at key locations and at key times of the year, indicate the river fails to meet some of the basic requirements of the Clean Water Act.
  • CBF Comments to Conowingo Regulator In a formal comment letter, CBF insisted that any new license for the operation of the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River require the dam’s owner to reduce the risk of sediment and nutrient pollution releases, and to improve passage for migratory fish.
  • CBF Comments to Conowingo Regulator In a formal comment letter, CBF insisted that any new license for the operation of the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River require the dam’s owner to reduce the risk of sediment and nutrient pollution releases, and to improve passage for migratory fish.
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