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

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

12.15.15 - Susquehanna bass hit by herbicides and hormones

12.15.15 - DEP: Herbicides, parasites likely causes of Susquehanna bass decline

12.14.15 - CBF Press Statement CBF Urges Impairments Listing for Lower Susquehanna in Wake of River Study

10.22.15 - The translation of a river name

09.15.15 - Seeking Clarity? Get involved in river health

09.04.15 - Video Seeking Clarity: The 'invisible' pollution in York's waterways

09.03.15 - Video Seeking Clarity: Penalties loom for Pa.'s failure to meet fed water pollution standards

08.17.15 - Video Man kayaks entire Susquehanna River, brings attention to water quality

08.14.15 - Susquehanna odyssey is testament to a struggling river

08.12.15 - Conowingo Dam fish-lift overhaul urged to restore Susquehanna's shad, eels

05.11.15 - Susquehanna Watershed Education Program Offers Students First-Hand Experience in Water Quality Testing

05.09.15 - Will a bass with cancer be enough to change the Department of Environmental Protection's mind about the Susquehanna River?

05.06.15 - CBF Press Release CBF Says Cancer Found in Smallmouth Bass Furthers Case for Susquehanna's Impairment

05.05.15 - Smallmouth Bass with Cancer Caught in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River

12.29.14 - Contamination leads to catfish advisory, more scrutiny of Susquehanna River

02.02.14 - Chesapeake Bay advocates urge stricter controls on Conowingo Dam

01.31.14 - CBF Press Statement CBF to Conowingo Regulator: New License Must Require Dam Owner to Address Sediment Build-Up, Improve Fish Passage

08.21.13 - Chesapeake Bay Foundation files to intervene in Conowingo relicensing

07.22.13 - Coalition calls for Conowingo clean-out to help Bay

Related Stories
  • 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 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, American Rivers, Make Case for Declaring the Susquehanna Impaired On February 25, 2013, in a joint letter, CBF and American Rivers continued the fight to designate the lower portion of the Susquehanna "impaired" under the Clean Water Act.
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