Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Should the Susky River be Declared Impaired?

It's not that clear to me; it hasn't worked out all the well for the Anacostia, Patapsco and Elizabeth, the three most highly impaired rivers entering Chesapeake Bay.

Impairment status will enable fix for ailing Susquehanna
...Doing so would trigger actions mandated by the federal Clean Water Act to identify and fix problems with the river's water quality over a period of many years. But the state Department of Environmental Protection isn't having it.

The smallmouth bass is an introduced species that's especially sensitive to changes in water conditions, and one that contributes to a $600 million fishing and tourism industry that employs thousands in the region.

They're kind of messed up, it seems. Some display both male and female sex characteristics. Some show lesions and other damage. That's when you can catch one; they're also reportedly more scarce overall.

After about two years of inaction, bay foundation and fish commission officials finally went over DEP's head, formally asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to add the Susquehanna from Sunbury to the Maryland state line to its list of impaired waterways.

This would give officials a set amount of time - from eight to 13 years - to identify and establish limits on the pollutants or other conditions that created the impartment.

We understand the reluctance to do so. It would disrupt a major recreational industry for many years. But the question must be asked: Is it better to suppress an industry temporarily so that it can return on a sustainable basis, or just let whatever's wrong persist until the industry collapses forever?
I don't see why it would necessarily affect the industry at all; fishing could go on while the research is carried out to find out what factors are causing the problems; catch and release fishing would not hurt the fishery as much as catch and take.

However, it's optimistic to imagine that the problem could be identified and cured in a finite time.  It's likely a mixture of several different causes.  We've seen similar problems elsewhere in the Bay.  We have similar intersex problems with Large-mouth Bass in the Potomac, and lesions in catfish and Striped Bass in a wide variety of places.  These problems have been remarkably difficult to diagnose and correct.

I think a better policy would be to start at the top, and cure the major pollution problems with the river, nutrients from sewer and agriculture first, and watch for improvement before moving on to the second line, toxic substances from sewage and industries.

But just out of curiosity, what will happen when it turns out to be the hormones in birth control pills which are causing the intersex problem?  Will the EPA ban birth control and Plan B?

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