Kayak trip shows off Susquehanna River
SELINSGROVE - The Susquehanna River contains lots of history and clues about how far Earth has come.
With the tireless help of dedicated volunteers, the river is enjoying a new look going into the future.
After years of being a dumping zone, the Susquehanna, with the help of the Northumberland County Conservation District (NCCD) a subdivision of state government aimed at promoting the protection, maintenance, improvement and wise us of the land, water and other natural resources, is on the rebound.
On Thursday, the district sponsored a four-mile summer kayak trip down the river in order to show off its fine work. Among the kayakers were state Reps. Kurt Masser, R-107, and Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108, along with representatives from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Pennsylvania Game Commission. And there wasn't a better way to show off the beauty of the river on a summer day.
The tour, led by Jim Charles from Isle of Que River Guides, featured a cameo by bald eagles, which are now prevalent along the banks of the river, and was highlighted by water clear enough to see through. It all means that grassroots efforts started far away from the actual water are working, and that the river is there and can be used for a variety of scenic and recreational activities.
"The district works with farmers to reduce the sediment and nutrients going into local steams, which then flows into the Susquehanna River," Jaci Harner, watershed specialist for the district, said.
Among the projects on the books now is the Little Shamokin Stream, which is on the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) impaired streams list.
NCCD received a $195,000 grant from the Growing Greener program to help with the Little Shamokin Stream efforts.
The district also works with regulatory agencies like DEP and the game commission and with the help of volunteers builds fish-habitat structures and plants trees plantings, in addition to their outreach efforts.
"It's a great thing to be able to work on a local level and know the impact it has here on the river, which will help clean up the Chesapeake Bay," Harner said.
Another group working closely with the district is the Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance. Its cleanup efforts have drastically reduced the amount of iron pyrite, which is responsible for the orange color of rocks in streams effected, being carried to the river.
One of the biggest dilemmas facing all concerned with the health of the river and its population of fish is the emergence of a bacteria creating black lesions on the smallmouth bass in the river.
Since 2005, the lesions have plagued the smallmouth bass population.
"We're still slightly uncertain what causes the lesions, but there are several factors involved," said Jeff Smith, Susquehanna River biologist for Fish and Game Commission in the division of fisheries management. "It's partially due to water quality issues, which we measure, and like us, when you stress an organism, they're more susceptible to bacterial infection."
The bacterial infection is believed to have to do with low-dissolved oxygen and warmer temperatures, which encourage viruses and bacterias to grow. Plants, not sewage, is taking in the oxygen and robbing it from the fish. Other contaminants, like pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, pesticides and general waste are also to blame for water-quality issues.
The disease kills off young fish, leading to fewer adults to reproduce. The population decline then affects the economy along the river.
Pennsylvania is not alone in the disease: States from Maryland to California have also reported the lesions on their fish.
But with the efforts of the NCCD and its partners, the smallmouth bass have to look no further than the water around them to see how a group of concerned rivergoers can make positive changes possible.