Growing up on the Isle of Que near Selinsgrove along the Susquehanna River was very “Tom Sawyerish” for one of 121 people who have taken the online 2020 Susquehanna Survey so far.
“My brother and two cousins would spend every waking hour on the river fishing, catching crabs, swimming and treasure hunting at the ‘turn around,’ which is now the boat launch but was formerly a dump. I can’t remember doing anything but being on the river, and fortunately have been able to pass that along to my own kids.”
The survey, conducted by the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, has received responses from all over the greater watershed – and even beyond. The stories, statistics and suggestions collected will be used to better protect and promote the river and its tributaries.
Of the 121 responses to date, 75 percent of the people are on the river at least once a month when conditions allow – 45 percent of those surveyed are on the Susquehanna at least once a week.
How concerned are they about our river-based resources? On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the highest level of concern, 77 percent of those surveyed chose an eight or higher. Forty-six percent selected a full 10 out of 10 in level of concern, and only five of the 121 people involved so far rated their concern for the river’s health at a five or lower.
“The creek behind my house is Logan’s Run, which leads to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. It is only about eight feet wide, yet I collect about a large trashcan full of litter each year just from my 30-foot section,” replied one person. “It doesn’t even make sense how much trash there is since not that many people live along it.”
The most common concern is general pollution – changes that people have noticed over time due to a wide variety of perceived threats, including acid mine drainage, deforestation, under-regulated storm water systems, fracking chemicals, sewage, odd-shaped fungus patches on smallmouth caught in the river, dams interfering with freshwater species, runoff from fertilizers and herbicides from lawns, golf courses and agricultural regions, an increase in invasive species (like zebra mussels and rusty crayfish) and a noticeable change in fish numbers.
“We no longer catch any type of panfish near the Isle of Que – no sunfish and my kids used to catch hundreds of them in a single trip. No rock bass. No crappies.”
One response suggested the West Branch near Williamsport needs dredged “badly. Boats hit their props off old sunken stuff daily that is unmarked and not inside the no-wake zones.”
Streambank destabilization of tributaries adds to the problem, according to several survey-takers, and sediment-based pollution is greatly affecting our watershed on a variety of fronts.
One surveyor suggested that there is a “lack of the oldest and youngest age groups of fish – they are not reproducing and the old giants are disappearing. This is a fact, not opinion.”
Each person shared his/her personal experiences, and while there has been an overwhelming consensus that the river has issues – there is quite a conflicting spectrum of observations.
For example, one person is tired of “misinformed people telling me the fish are sick because of one goofy fish on Facebook,” while the very next person shared that he has “caught fish with lesions on them in multiple areas.”
Concern was shared about gray water running directly into the river near Bloomsburg – “ walk upriver along the train tracks during the weekend and you can smell it before you can see it.” The same person shared concern about a pipe that allegedly comes from a nearby sewage treatment plant that pumps discolored water into the river.
“When we were kids in the late 90s, we would see tons of catfish – every log in the water would have catfish tails sticking out from them,” said one person who grew up in Lock Haven. “Now you see a few, but it’s like all populations of fish have decreased.”
What is behind that decline in his opinion? “Eagles are a dime a dozen and otters are quite common now, too. Wildlife seems to be thriving, but not the fish.”
Sediments from stream banks have ruined great fishing spots by back-filling trout spawning areas, suggested one survey-taker. “Most erosion is from large storm events that are too frequent to allow for vegetation to grow and stabilize banks.”
There have also been several people sharing concern over the groundwater being tainted by pollution and drained by overuse. “These aquifers can take long periods of time to be replenished or cleared of pollution that seeps into them,” shared one responder.
The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is responsible for nearly 11,000-square miles of watershed defined by the North and West branches of the Susquehanna and the criss-crossing network of tributaries that feed into the river.
As the watershed’s Riverkeeper, the long list of issues involving the river could easily become overwhelming. How can one person realistically make a difference with so many concerns to address?
From all the information gleaned from the responses to the 2020 Susquehanna Survey so far, the most powerful takeaway – for me – is the genuine passion people put into their responses. Through the survey, they shared their stories because they care – because the river and its tributaries are critically important for each of them.
There was an overwhelming response to questions asking if people would be willing to volunteer their time – and finances – to address concerns, become active stewards of our river-based resources and pass along a cleaner, more vibrant watershed to the next generation.
As one survey-taker shared: “It doesn’t take a person with a doctorate in ecology or hydrology to make a difference. No one can do everything necessary, but everyone can do something. When we empower people, they step up.”
This is why the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association strives to empower the residents throughout our watershed to join us in our effort to protect and promote the river, its aquatic inhabitants and the life-giving essentials of clean water.
How can you help? Reach out to me and share your "Susquehanna Story." Why is the river and its resources so important to you? What issues have you seen within our watershed? Would you be willing to volunteer time or money (or both) toward efforts to curb pollution and to engage and educate young people about the benefits of -- and threats to -- our natural resources?
I encourage you to reach out to me via email (by clicking here) or call me directly at 570-768-6300. If you haven't already done so, take a moment to fill out our Susquehanna Survey (by clicking here) and be sure to keep watching our Facebook page and website for updates!
John Zaktansky, your Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.