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Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay: Connected and Conflicted

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Monday, August 22, 2011   

HARRISBURG, Pa. - On the face of it, Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River looks to be a very different body of water than the Chesapeake Bay, but both, as it turns out, share some environmental characteristics that don't bode well for either one.

Harry Campbell, a senior scientist with the Pennsylvania office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, says the Bay gets about half of its fresh water from Pennsylvania, and heavy spring rains this year meant a lot of undesirable elements made the trip, too.

"From January to May, Pennsylvania, via the Susquehanna River, has delivered as many pollutants as we normally do in a regular year."

One of the chief issues facing both river and bay is dead zones.

According to John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, while some of the triggers are different, each waterway is showing the effects of nutrient pollution from chemicals and fertilizers.

"Nutrients are causing plants to grow, that cause oxygen to be depleted at night to dangerous and harmful levels. This stresses and weakens fish and makes them susceptible to bacterial infection, which eventually kills many of them."

Campbell says the situation won't improve in either case unless more people realize the connection of their actions on land to what's happening in our waters.

"The decisions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and elsewhere, not only affect our own backyard, but our overall ecological and environmental health worldwide. It's the cumulative impact of all of our daily decisions that are coming back to haunt us in many ways."

The dead zone in the Susquehanna is dominant in the lower sections of the river, while the one in the bay is of almost incomprehensible size; it covered a third of the bay two months ago, and continues to grow.

Campbell says progress has been made in the past 30 years to curb pollutants from agricultural and storm-water runoff and, more recently, sewage treatment plants, but the Susquehanna is still a leading source of pollution to the Bay.




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