Study Shows West Branch Susquehanna Watershed is Improving

Rebecca Dunlap: 570-367-8519,
TU Eastern Abandoned Mine Program

For Immediate Release:

Study Shows West Branch Susquehanna Watershed is Improving

Restoration work leads to better water quality and more fish.

LOCK HAVEN, Pa.A study conducted by TU shows that the overall health of the West Branch Susquehanna River and its tributaries has greatly improved, compared to 25 years ago.

The study examined how abandoned mine restoration has affected the West Branch Susquehanna River and its tributaries. Scientists monitored 12 sites on the river and 69 tributaries and examined habitat, water quality, fish and aquatic insect populations.

The findings were released at the West Branch Susquehanna Restoration Symposium today. The research, conducted last year, was funded by the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“This research shows that in just a short time, the river’s health is improving,”
said Amy Wolfe, director of TU’s Eastern abandoned mine program. “We still have a long way to go to repair the damage from historic coal mining, but the tremendous effort at the state and local levels to restore the West Branch Susquehanna watershed is clearly paying off.”

The study found significant water quality improvements and enhanced fish and aquatic insect populations from the river’s headwaters in Cambria County to Lock Haven, Pa., a distance of over 250 miles. In Karthaus, Pa., the river contained 72% less iron and 87% less aluminum than it did in the mid-1980s. Both metals are toxic to aquatic life. In addition, the river’s acidity has significantly decreased to a level deemed safe by the DEP. Surveys conducted at Hyner, Pa. showed that fish populations have increased by more than 3,000 percent, compared to surveys conducted in 1999.

The Pa. Fish and Boat Commission and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission assisted in the study and assessed fish populations at 12 sites on the river. The final report on the findings will be released later this year.

The West Branch Susquehanna watershed has more than 1,200 miles of impaired streams and rivers and more than 36,000 acres of abandoned mine lands. As a result of coal mining activities from over 100 years ago, the abandoned mines drain water laden with toxic metals into the watershed, polluting streams and rendering them lifeless.

TU established the West Branch Susquehanna Restoration Initiative in 2004 to restore the West Branch Susquehanna River watershed. TU is the lead non-profit organization in the initiative and works with state, local and federal government and non-government agencies on a coordinated, strategic and cost-effective cleanup of abandoned mine drainage in the watershed.

Photos are available.