People encouraged to get involved via feedback, resouces as we gear up for a full slate scheduled in 2024
A year ago, I shared a column about water testing in which I shared a story about a young boy drinking a glass of water from a tap moments before I collected a residential well sample.
Shortly after, the results showed the treatment system in the family's basement wasn't working, that a variety of contaminants were streaming through the water in the home.
While we were able to fix the problem, the column suggested that among our goals for 2023 would be an emphasis on water sampling. While that has been the case -- in fact, I am working on some concerning numbers from the lab right now involving samples taken a few weeks ago -- I'd love to see a much more sampling (residential, surface water and beyond) as we head into yet another new year soon.
The reality is that water sampling is expensive, especially when factoring in panels of some of the newer emerging contaminants (microplastics, PFAS, etc.). This is just one of many hurdles we face as we strive to protect and promote the health and vibrancy of the Susquehanna River, its tributaries and the aquatic ecosystem that depends on these resources across an 11,000 square-mile watershed.
We have also been affiliated with several other groups (along with the Center for Biological Diversity, Waterkeeper Chesapeake, Waterkeeper Alliance and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association) that have been legally pushing for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its stance on protections for the Eastern hellbender.
Part of that push included a variety of local stories and info being shared out. And in early September, a federal judge agreed, overturning a 2019 US Fish and Wildlife Service decision to not grant any protections to the hellbender and require a new look at the species. While this is a needed step toward better protections, there is much more work to be done, and 2024 will likely be a crucial year for this species.
We also doubled down in our work to improve the sustainability of the Montour Preserve in Montour County. While we have been working toward a long-term endgame for the preserve as part of our 2021 settlement agreement with Talen Energy, new developments this summer required additional creative solutions to cover the interim period of support for the Montour Area Recreation Commission as it manages the 640-acre nature preserve.
This led to a mid-October announcement of the Vernal School Environmental Education Partnership, a group of 20-plus entities committed to offering a revitalized slate of programming for all ages to help engage people with outdoor resources and inspire new generations of stewards using STEM-based and other skills that coincide with new science standards for schools statewide.
While the partnership startup is being backed by the 1994 Charles B Degenstein Foundation, there are many needs to upgrade equipment, tackle deferred projects at the preserve and bridge the gap to new groups of people who have yet to experience the venue. We'd love your help in two ways ... first by sharing feedback about the Montour Preserve and potential new programming via our online survey and then to consider a donation.
Beyond all this, we continue to work on tracking new projects and permits that potentially threaten the watershed. We are working on collecting data and will soon have a new report involving a proposed plastics plant along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Northumberland County (Encina). We continue to monitor and provide feedback on water withdrawals and other permit requests with various state agencies from various industries across the watershed. And we monitor and engage pollution threats currently in the watershed to find realistic long-term solutions.
We also have continued to share studies done locally about river-related topics and threats and are excited to delve into more of these soon. The most recent package, looking at a Susquehanna University study of a legacy island made up mostly of coal waste in the Susquehanna River, should be an important cautionary tale for all of us as we consider any new industry or venture being proposed along the river. We will be tacking more stories on emerging contaminants to better understand their impacts and have a growing list of new studies done locally to share out.
Finally, we have been working to help amplify the work of smaller watershed groups and other boots-on-the-ground partners as they work to strengthen streambanks, reduce nutrient runoff, collect litter and more. Many of these groups are aging out and in desperate need of younger helpers. We would like to create better ways to improve those connections, starting with our Watershed Opportunities page, but also to boost resources to these groups, mostly all volunteer-based.
And, as I said earlier, I want to test more water. The more we test in a wide number of places, the more data points we have to better track what sort of pollutants are in our watershed and where those pollutants may be coming from ... but it all goes back to resources and funding.
We are excited to be in the process of reviewing applications and soon hiring new people within our association so that 2024 can be our most productive yet. We really want you to be a part of that success, and you can be in the following ways:
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.