The Susquehanna: America’s Most Endangered River

Posted by Ben Jervey

american rivers, endangered rivers, america's most endangered rivers, rivers, river, water, pollution

Last week, American Rivers released their annual list of the nation's "Most Endangered Rivers." Atop the list is the Susquehanna River, the longest waterway that flows into the Atlantic Ocean, which snakes its way through Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale country.

As we've covered, that Marcellus Shale rock formation is Ground Zero for the gas industry's “fracking.” American Rivers describes the threat posed by this risky hydraulic mining technique.

The seriousness of the threat to the entire Susquehanna watershed cannot be overstated. Industry estimates indicate the potential for 400,000 wells across the Marcellus Shale—a number that would require, conservatively, 1.5 times the annual flow of the Susquehanna River to sustain. As part of the hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) process to extract natural gas, massive amounts of water are withdrawn from rivers and streams. Many of the streams being used for Marcellus Shale water withdrawals provide critical habitat for trout—a concern, especially during summer months when stream flows are already low.

The water is then mixed with sand and toxic chemicals and pumped underground to fracture the shale under extreme pressure. A portion of that highly toxic, highly saline, and potentially radioactive wastewater will return to the surface, and requires specialized treatment, but at this time, only a limited number of wastewater treatment facilities have the capacity to handle it.

Other rivers on the list face other problems. Bristol Bay's rivers in Alaska are threatened by a proposed massive gold mine. The Chicago River is plagued by rampant sewage pollution. The Mississippi River doesn't officially make the list, but gets its own “special mention,” as it faces a whole raft of challenges: over-engineering, loss of wetlands, industrial runoff, and so on.

For special fact sheets about all of America's Most Endangered Rivers, and for action opportunities for all neighbors, check out their website.