The Susquehanna River Basin Commission this week announced findings from four separate river monitoring programs providing biological and water quality data used to assess streams and rivers and identify changes in stream health over time.
The technical reports focus on: the Susquehanna River and other large rivers, West Branch Susquehanna Subbasin, the Lackawanna River, and streams that cross the New York–Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania–Maryland state lines.
“Each of the Commission’s monitoring programs is unique and generates data that are very valuable to water managers,” said Paul Swartz, SRBC Executive Director. “The data can be used to assess compliance with state and federal water quality standards, characterize stream quality and identify areas for restoration and protection.”
The four technical reports, which are available on SRBC’s website or by hard copy, are as follows:
-- Susquehanna Large River Assessment Project (Publication #271) continued SRBC's biological assessment of the basin's large rivers, which include the mainstem Susquehanna, Chemung, West Branch Susquehanna, and Juniata Rivers.
During 2009, the assessment stretched from Sidney, N.Y., to Towanda, Pa., and encompassed a total of eight stations: six in the Upper Susquehanna Subbasin; one in the Middle Susquehanna Subbasin, and one on the Chemung River.
Four of the sites were designated as nonimpaired, three sites were slightly impaired, and one site was moderately impaired. Only 4.5 percent (9 of 200) of the water quality values exceeded their respective limits, indicating fairly good water quality in the Susquehanna River. Data collected during 2009 completed sampling conducted during 2008 at 17 additional sampling stations.
-- Middle Susquehanna Subbasin Year-2 Survey: Small Watershed Study – Lackawanna River, April 2009 – April 2010 (Publication #269) is a second-year, water quality study in the Middle Susquehanna Subbasin focused on the Lackawanna River Watershed. In particular, SRBC examined the impacts of stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows (CSOs) on the water quality in the Lackawanna River and its tributaries.
SRBC staff collected base flow and stormflow water quality samples at 15 locations within the Lackawanna River Watershed. During base flow, total phosphorus and total nitrogen were the two parameters that most consistently were above levels of concern for aquatic life. For storm samples, iron, aluminum, nitrogen, phosphorus, and total suspended solids (TSS) often exceeded water quality standards or levels of concern.
During storms, nitrogen and TSS increases were likely due to the introduction of human sewage from CSOs. More than 130 CSOs are still active within the watershed and can discharge into the Lackawanna River and its tributaries between Carbondale and Old Forge, Pa., during rain events.
-- West Branch Susquehanna Subbasin Year–1 Survey: A Water Quality and Biological Assessment, March – July 2009 (Publication #268) is a stream quality assessment based on one-time sampling of water chemistry, biological, and habitat conditions throughout the West Branch Subbasin during 2009. Samples were collected at 141 tributary and mainstem river sites. Pollution concerns in this subbasin are largely due to resource extraction activities as land use is mostly forested.
Abandoned mine drainageways the most prevalent pollution issue, with additional impacts from atmospheric deposition. Historical data from previous subbasin surveys at these sites in the West Branch Subbasin were compared to current conditions. Despite improvements in mayfly populations (mayflies are sensitive to AMD conditions), the percentage of impaired streams in the West Branch Subbasin continue to be higher than other subbasins throughout the Susquehanna River Basin.
-- Assessment of Interstate Streams in the Susquehanna River Basin, January 1 – December 31, 2009 (Publication #270) is a summary report of water quality and biological data on streams that cross state lines. This interstate stream monitoring began in 1986 to collect data that were not available from monitoring programs in New York, Pennsylvania or Maryland.
In New York–Pennsylvania streams, the parameter that most frequently exceeded water quality standards was total aluminum, followed by total iron. The Pennsylvania–Maryland border streams are located in a heavily agricultural region, and nutrient concentrations were high at many of these sites. Fish sampling at 18 sites began in 2009. Index of biotic integrity analyses showed that fish communities at 9 sites were good, 8 sites were fair and 1 site was rated poor.
SRBC’s monitoring programs and their associated annual reports are funded largely by grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Copies of the reports are available online.