Moments after turning on the tap at the kitchen sink of a home in the Strawberry Ridge region of Montour County recently, I was overwhelmed with a pungent, noxious odor that went beyond the typical rotten egg smell of water harboring too much sulfur.
My eyes began to water and I fought an instant gag reflex.
“I’m so sorry, but now you see what I’m up against,” apologized the young homeowner standing nearby. “It has gotten so bad that I take my showers at work. I don’t even let my dogs drink this water. Something has to change because I can’t keep living like this.”
I collected the water samples, and two weeks later, we discovered a number of contaminants that will be addressed via a water treatment system thanks to a portion of a larger settlement agreement made between the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association and Talen Energy’s Montour Coal Plant.
The deal, announced during a March 2, 2021, press release and miniconference on the shoreline of the Montour Preserve’s Lake Chillisquaque, included a number of water-related protections focused on a large coal ash basin at the plant and an expert’s report that showed the potential for pollution from that basin.
The agreement included a deadline for dumping coal ash waste into the pit, measures to seal it off and the inclusion of a new background well to better monitor potential pollution levels downgradient. It included the development of a surface water sampling plan in which Talen provides the first year of testing and the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association continues that effort for the next 29 years afterward, closely monitoring the Chillisquaque Creek and Mud Run for signs of contamination.
Also included in the agreement was a specific sum of money to be used “for clean water programs consistent with the mission of the environmental group.”
In its simplest form, our mission is to protect and promote our water-based resources and to help people access clean water.
As Pennsylvanians, we all have a right to clean water thanks to the Environmental Rights Amendment of the 1970s. Included in that “we all” is the young man whose kitchen smells like a fermented landfill every time he turns on the tap.
Also included in the settlement agreement are protections for the Montour Preserve and Lake Chillisquaque, which you read about in the previous story. An environmental staple to the region, we felt it important to make sure this venue was protected for generations to come – and for the countless species that depend on the lake and its surrounding habitat for survival, even if only as a migrational rest stop.
Since the agreement’s announcement, we have been working with Talen to achieve the elements and deadlines both sides agreed to meet. So far, those have included:
Beyond all the engagement and educational elements outlined via the stories in this book, the Talen agreement illustrates another element of our work within the greater watershed. We are actively involved in other cases where the threat of pollution is high, where landowners feel they lack a voice and where reasonable, realistic solutions are needed.
For us to continue to be able to do this work, we need your support. Much of our annual operating expenses depend on grants, and while those resources offer great opportunities for us and we are extremely grateful for their support, our goal is to work toward financial independence as an association.
You purchasing our Sentinels of the Susquehanna book helps us move toward that goal, as does buying other products we offer (Songs of the Susquehanna CDs, neck gaiters, hats, etc.)
In addition, please consider a specific donation to the association, especially during our Raise the Region (in mid-March) or #GivingTuesday campaigns. Get involved in upcoming fundraising events. Beyond the finances, we also greatly appreciate the effort of our volunteers.
There are plenty of ways to get involved in our efforts, and we’d love to find which of those opportunities best suits you and your resources. Please reach out to me (Riverkeeper John Zaktansky) directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 570-768-6300.
I would love to talk with you directly on how we can work together to better protect and promote the many important resources of our greater watershed
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.