The Susquehanna River
Each year, American Rivers highlights a list it calls America's Most Endangered Rivers. The list is meant to raise awareness about issues facing rivers around the U.S., and is used to catalyze citizen action to head-off development, pollution or other activity that threatens water quality, habitat or scenery in the next calendar year. The 2011 edition, more because of late-breaking news than the coincidental date, features 11 rivers instead of 10, starting with the Susquehanna:
The 16th-longest river in the U.S. at 444 miles, the Susquehanna River runs through New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, draining an acreage nearly as big as South Carolina before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. Long recognized for its importance in determining the water quality for that great American estuary, now the Susquehanna faces a more direct threat: "Fracking."
"Fracking," short for hydraulic fracturing, is a technique used to coax natural gas from shale deposits, including the so-called Marcellus Shale formation under much of the Susquehanna watershed. The problem lies in the mix often undisclosed of chemicals, sand and water injected into the shale to force out the natural gas. While New York has so far kept the brakes on fracking, Pennsylvania has permitted the use of the technique, which has led to windfalls for landowners, gas companies and cash-strapped tax collectors, but also reports of polluted water a serious concern since the Susquehanna serves up drinking water for millions of people, including, most recently, residents of Baltimore, Md. The risks of fracking were illustrated most prominently in the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, but the gas industry stands by the safety of the technique; federal and state environmental agencies are coming to their own conclusions as they complete investigations of potential environmental and public health risks.
American Rivers is urging people to join Susquehanna Sentinel and Sierra Club in pressuring state agencies the DEP in Pennsylvania and the DEC in New York, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to keep or start moratoria on fracking until safeguards are developed for protecting water quality.