Water Quality Monitoring: A Vital Link to Restoration

Paul O. Swartz, executive director of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, offers his pespective on the impending 2010 deadline by which the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and certain tidal areas must be improved enough to be removed from the list of impaired waters. He explains how water monitoring is an important practice that could help determine how much pollution is going to the Bay from the Susquehanna watershed, and would be useful for determining trends,...

by Paul O. Swartz, Executive Director, Susquehanna River Basin Commission

HARRISBURG, PA, Dec. 24, 2007 -- Whether you live in the New York, Pennsylvania or Maryland portion of the Susquehanna River Basin, you have likely read recent news stories or editorials regarding the pending 2010 deadline by which the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and certain tidal areas must be improved enough to be removed from the list of impaired waters. Failure to meet the deadline could expose all the states in the Chesapeake Watershed to legally binding cleanup requirements.

There is ongoing debate regarding what has to be done within each sector - point and non-point sources - that contributes to the nutrient and sediment loadings to the Bay. And while the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) is not involved in this debate from a regulatory standpoint, we do provide an invaluable service that helps determine how much pollution is going to the Bay from the Susquehanna watershed and what are the likely hotspots and sources. That service is water quality monitoring.

Good monitoring consists of using approved methodologies, collecting data, preferably over a long period, carefully recording and analyzing the data, following protocols for quality assurance and quality control, coming to proper conclusions based on sound science and then releasing the findings to agencies, policy makers and the public. Monitoring data are often used to support restoration projects for impaired waterways and to encourage the protection of good quality, pristine waterways so they stay that way for future generations.

For the past 23 years, SRBC has been a leading source for water quality data. As a federal-interstate watershed agency, we are also uniquely qualified to conduct monitoring programs without regard to political boundaries. While we are routinely involved in a variety of monitoring programs, I draw your attention to our three core programs: nutrient and sediment monitoring, interstate streams monitoring and the subbasin survey program.

The data generated through SRBC's nutrient and sediment monitoring program tell us the amount of total nitrogen, total phosphorus and suspended sediments from the Susquehanna River going into the Chesapeake Bay and throughout the Susquehanna watershed continues to decline overall. This assessment of improving trends could not be possible but for the years of careful data collection and analyses by SRBC.

Water quality monitoring in the Susquehanna watershed is vitally important because it allows SRBC and other water quality managers in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Program to determine trends, helps them target restoration work to where it is most needed, and helps document real progress in the Bay restoration effort. For more information on SRBC's nutrient and sediment monitoring program, visit our web site at www.srbc.net/programs/CBP/nutrientprogram.

Our second long-term monitoring program involves interstate streams. SRBC is the only agency that annually monitors all rivers and streams that cross and sometimes re-cross state boundaries. Monitoring interstate streams helps identify whether certain pollutants are coming from an upstream or downstream state. Starting this year, SRBC posted its latest interstate streams findings on the web site in the form of an interactive tool. I invite you to visit the site, www.srbc.net/interstate_streams, and learn the condition of the basin's interstate streams.

Third, the subbasin survey program helps document changes in stream quality over time in each of the six major subbasins of the Susquehanna River Basin. On a rotating basis, SRBC assesses water quality, biological conditions and physical habitat in each subbasin, as well as identifies major pollution sources and determines the number of stream miles that are impaired. The program involves conducting a point-in-time (or snap-shot) assessment throughout a targeted subbasin followed by a more detailed assessment of a select subwatershed with the subbasin.

SRBC is grateful to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for funding these extremely critical monitoring programs since 1984. The federal government and the three states in the Susquehanna watershed - New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland - look to our monitoring data to determine if their management programs are working or whether greater resources need to be directed to a particular region to prevent further degradation of water quality. The data are also available to watershed groups and other interested parties.

Our team of qualified aquatic ecologists, biologists, water quality specialists and environmental technicians are trained in the latest monitoring techniques and work to generate and provide the highest quality data. Their work often takes them to the farthest reaches of our vast watershed - a 27,510-square-mile area with more then 48,000 miles of waterways. For more information on SRBC's monitoring programs, visit www.srbc.net/pubinfo/factsheets.htm (scroll to Water Quality and select Monitoring the Quality of the Susquehanna River Basin).


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