The Susquehanna River Basin Commission Tuesday temporarily suspended 36 separate water withdrawals used by natural gas drilling companies due to localized stream flow levels dropping at many locations in the Susquehanna basin, especially in northern Pennsylvania.
“Once again, the Commission’s stream protection requirements are ahead of the curve and working as intended to protect aquatic resources and downstream water users,” said SRBC Executive Director Paul Swartz. “As of early this week, 36 individual water withdrawals in 10 Pennsylvania counties have been temporarily suspended by virtue of the Commission’s passby flow restrictions. The vast majority of those suspended withdrawals are related to water for natural gas development.”
Under SRBC’s passby flow restrictions, when streams drop to pre-determined protected low flow levels, project sponsors who are required to meet the agency’s passby requirement must stop taking water. They cannot resume taking water until streams have recovered above the protected level for at least 48 hours.
SRBC and its regulated project sponsors monitor real-time stream flow data generated by stream gages maintained and operated by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Regulated project sponsors also are required to install tamper-proof water meters that automatically record their water withdrawals on a daily basis. SRBC requires that information be reported to it quarterly, in addition to continuous spot-inspections by SRBC field staff working out of the field office in Sayre, Bradford County, Pennsylvania.
Swartz said, “The Commission does not wait for drought declarations or phone calls from citizens to temporarily halt water withdrawals. Our system is based on science and kicks in well before streams drop to critical low levels. We base our surface and groundwater withdrawal approvals on conservative assumptions regarding hydrologic conditions.”
Not all SRBC approvals contain passby restrictions. Those are the withdrawals where the approved withdrawal amounts are so small that they will not affect the protective levels of streams. In those cases, companies can continue to take water during low flow periods.
A list of actions by the SRBC is available online. Visit SRBC's Marcellus Shale webpage for more background on how the agency regulates drilling water withdrawals.
Click Here for statewide drought information.