SRBC Issues State Of Susquehanna Report, Flood Gage Funding In Doubt
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission Wednesday issued a State of the Susquehanna report showing trends in water use, drinking water, stormwater, aquatic habitat and other key water resource indicators.
SRBC cites the lack of reliable funding for stream gages to be the greatest threat to the future of water resources management in the Susquehanna watershed.
“The Commission’s goal is to make water resources information and data available to the public and let that data speak for themselves, not to rate or rank conditions,” said SRBC Executive Director Paul Swartz. “Based on data generated by the Commission and its member jurisdiction agencies, there has been good progress in some water resources areas but much more is needed in others.”
The 2013 State of the Susquehanna report provides a snapshot look at trends for seven overarching water resource indicators throughout the basin: water use and development, floods and droughts, stormwater, mine drainage, sediment and nutrients, human health and drinking water protection, and habitat and aquatic resources.
Nutrient and sediment monitoring data indicate the overall health of the Susquehanna River Basin is continuing to improve. Also, of the more than 49,000 miles of rivers and streams in the basin, less than 14 percent are impaired for aquatic life uses.
“That is an impressive statistic for a watershed as large as the Susquehanna basin,” said Swartz. “And with efforts such as the Commission’s policy incentivizing the reuse of mine drainage and other lesser quality waters, we are encouraged that there will be additional improvements in the future.”
“Unfortunately, that is only half the story. Much more progress is needed in other areas. More than 2,000 miles of streams remain polluted by mine drainage. The incidence of disease in the smallmouth bass population, particularly in the lower Susquehanna region, continues to increase due to yet unknown sources. Drinking water protection is a concern as the percentage of assessed stream miles impaired by microbial pollution, such as high bacteria levels, has doubled between 2010 and 2012.”
SRBC and numerous state and federal agencies rely on monitoring data to make management decisions and assess water quality conditions. Much of this monitoring data is made possible by a network of stream gages throughout the Susquehanna basin. These gages, which are maintained and operated by the U.S. Geological Survey, generate real-time data used by agencies to manage water resources.
Swartz said, “I believe the greatest threat to water resource management in the Susquehanna basin is the ongoing uncertainty over funding for the stream gages. This is not a new concern. But when line-item funding for the Susquehanna Flood Forecast and Warning System was eliminated in the federal budget, starting in fiscal year 2011, we lost the funding source for many stream gages in the basin.”
The data needed to track virtually all seven indicators described in this State of the Susquehanna report, as well as others not mentioned in the report, are directly or indirectly tied to USGS stream gages.
“Without the data from the stream gages, we will literally be ‘flying blind.’ A more viable, sustainable way of funding the stream gages must be secured before we lose our vital ‘hidden infrastructure’ that water resource managers rely upon so extensively.”
Among the many examples of how water resource management functions would be severely impeded without the stream gages:
-- SRBC would not be able to determine when major regulated water users need to cease water withdrawals to safeguard other water users and the aquatic environment during times of low flow.
-- The National Weather Service would not be able to provide timely and accurate predictions of when flooding is expected to impact communities throughout the basin, thus jeopardizing public health, safety and welfare.
-- SRBC would not be able to assess whether pollutant loads in the basin and those reaching the Chesapeake Bay are increasing or decreasing.
SRBC has been at the forefront for some years urging the federal government to adequately fund the stream gages.
“I cannot stress enough just how incredibly vital the stream gaging network is for the communities and citizens of the Susquehanna basin. I sincerely hope the importance of gages can be fully appreciated before this invaluable water infrastructure is lost to us.”
A copy of the report is available online.
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