As an astute, unbiased and vertically-challenged passenger in my kayak observed last year, "It's chocolate water! " Damming this river will create nothing short of a cesspool and yet, the good Congressman and his limited band of supporters push onward.--Kayak Dude
When I stumbled downstairs yesterday morning and spread open The Times Leader while sipping some tea, the bold headline Troubled Waters: Susquehanna tops list of nation's 10 endangered rivers had me intrigued and ready to read.
And I wasn't even two paragraphs into the story when I thought of Kayak Dude and his sea kayak, which displaces approximately 46,000 tons and can top out at 30 knots. Something like that. I don't know. The Navy built five of those Iowa-class battleships during the great Pacific war and launched them just two years after the Tora! Tora! Tora! order was given. Let's see here, there was the U.S.S. Missouri, the U.S.S. New Jersey, the U.S.S. Iowa, the U.S.S. Wisconsin, and the U.S.S. Dude.
Anywho, I know how much passion Kayak Dude brings to the deflatable dam debate, and I also know he is diametrically opposed to the proposed damming of his watery playground. As a matter of fact, it was his opposition to Uncle Paul's dam that made him contact me in the first place. When Uncle Paul made the front pages of the local newspapers when he first proposed this idiocy, I fired-up the word processor and had at it. I'm certainly not an environmentalist by any stretch of the imagination, and I'd probably subscribe to She-Male magazine and send it along to the home of anyone who described me as being one. But when Uncle Paul announced his plan for Lake Kanjorski, I really couldn't believe what I was reading. And I responded by asking very publicly why in the hell we'd want to dam and then play in an unlimited supply of raw sewage. And when I wandered into the e-mail inbox the very next morning, Kayak Dude was suddenly born.
He invited me to explore an 18-mile stretch of the Susquehanna River from the front seat of his battleship during the 2002 RiverFest event. And being the adventurous type that I am, I accepted his gracious invitation without hesitation. At this point, I think I've paddled about 50 miles on that river from as far north as Tunkhannock and as far south as West Nanticoke. And after meeting him at Canal Park in West Nanticoke one fine morning, a polluted river I had never given a second thought to suddenly became a hot-button issue and an almost undiscovered resource that I studied up on and cared about. For decades on end I gave the river only passing glances while crossing our local bridges. But after looking back at the entire length of the Wyoming Valley from the middle of that river, I wondered aloud as to why we had to tolerate the unchecked flows of contaminents flowing into it that for generations seemed to be as normal in these parts as mine fires, culm piles and strip-mining pits.
The sad fact is, we could do a helluva lot better by our once pristine river, but it's never going to regenerate itself if we dam it. Despite what Uncle Paul may tell you, we can't dam it and then clean it up later on down the road when federal funds are secured. A free-flowing river can eventually regenerate itself. A dammed river cannot. At least, not during our lifetimes.
Uncle Paul can stick to his spiel about damming it now to raise awareness later on about cleaning it, but he's simply blowing more smoke up our tight asses.
If it's dirty, we need to clean it.
Not dam it, dammit!
How 'bout a trip down memory lane? Check the date of the following press release.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, June 29, 2000
Contact: Gretchen M. Wintermantel 202.225.6511
Statement of Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski Regarding the Proposed Inflatable Dam for Luzerne County
First, I would like to thank the Luzerne County Commissioners for studying whether to build an inflatable dam on the Susquehanna River in the Wyoming Valley. Their consultants, Gannett-Fleming, produced a high-quality report which laid out the issues the community needs to consider as it decides whether to move forward on this project.
At my request, the Army Corps of Engineers conducted an initial study in 1991 to determine whether it would make sense to build an inflatable dam which would stabilize the water level of the river during the low flow summer months. I was aware of the 30-year-old inflatable dam in Sunbury which provides a seasonal lake that attracts more than 300,000 visitors per year for fishing and boating. Unlike in Sunbury, where the seasonal lake is located entirely within a state park, the waterfront of our seasonal lake would provide public access both to the beautiful Riverfront Parks maintained by the city of Wilkes-Barre as well as to downtown Wilkes-Barre. The Corps concluded that an inflatable dam project was worth pursuing and if constructed, "The Susquehanna River could once again become an important recreational and environmental asset to the area."
In 1996, I convinced President Clinton to approve 75% federal funding for the construction of an inflatable dam, estimated to cost about $14 million. Gannett-Fleming estimates that constructing an inflatable dam would lead to an annual economic benefit to the area of at least $4 million each year and possibly as much as $70 million each year, depending on how many additional improvements are made to the waterfront. Boating marinas, a visitors center, an outdoor amphitheater, biking and hiking paths have all been proposed by numerous organizations to enhance the waterfront. I have been working with the Luzerne County Commissioners, the state legislators, the City of Wilkes-Barre, the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, and numerous private interests who recognize the value of the Susquehanna River and want to improve it.
Downtown Wilkes-Barre, Kingston, and the surrounding communities will grow and attract additional private investments if the inflatable dam is completed. Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom McGroarty has expressed his strong support for the inflatable dam for this very reason.
I believe in the Susquehanna; for too long it has been viewed only as a threat from flooding and an open sewer. We are now poised to transform the river from a liability into a valuable asset.
But we have some work to do. The water quality has improved substantially since the late 1980’s when the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority completed its secondary treatment plant. One of the first things I did when I was elected to Congress was to secure 75 percent federal funding – more than $35 million – to complete that project, which has significantly reduced the bacteria level of the river. However, as the Gannett-Fleming report points out, we still have raw sewage entering the river during periods of heavy rainfall, when sanitary treatment plants are overwhelmed with stormwater mixed with sewage. It is my understanding from early engineering reports that the eight worst overflows can be corrected for about $8 million, reducing the problem dramatically.
It is simply unacceptable to have raw sewage flowing into the river. It is an environmental problem, a public health hazard, and an aesthetic disaster. The Environmental Protection Agency is beginning to force larger cities to correct their combined sewer overflow problems. Within the next few years, they will force us to fix this problem in our area. There are many potential funding mechanisms at the federal and state levels. I have co-sponsored legislation to provide federal funds to communities like ours, and I would also like to commend State Senator Ray Musto for introducing his legislation to expand the state’s PennVest program to by $1 billion to correct combined sewer overflows. I will continue to work to find as much federal money as possible, and will work with local, county, state, and other federal officials, as well as the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority, to develop an affordable plan to stop untreated sewage from flowing into the river.
In an ideal world, we would clean the river first, and then attend to adding amenities such as an inflatable dam. However, I was able to obtain the federal funds for the inflatable dam as a part of the $175 million Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project, and those funds will not remain available indefinitely. That money cannot be spent on other projects; if an inflatable dam is not built, the money must be returned to the U.S. Treasury for use in other parts of the country. It would be virtually impossible to obtain additional federal funds for an inflatable dam in the future.
One of the reasons I have pushed so hard to build an inflatable dam has been to provide the information for the need to clean up the river and to create an incentive for our community to do so. Until this debate started, few people paid much attention to the quality of the water in the Susquehanna. Now there seems to be universal recognition that we need to clean up the river. For that reason alone, the feasibility study has served an important purpose. Our sewage problem is out of the closet, and we can begin to address it. We know we have a need to clean the river, we will soon be forced to clean the river, and we absolutely should clean the river.
I hope that the Luzerne County Commissioners will take the next step in building an inflatable dam by beginning the environmental impact study. No matter what they decide, I will continue to do everything within my power to clean up the Susquehanna River, the mighty waterway which drew the original settlers to our area and which can and should be the jewel of the Wyoming Valley.
How 'bout the following from people, who unlike our long-term Congressman, have actually partaken of a river once or twice.
Susquehanna River "Most Endangered"
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
By: Amy Souers Kober
Susquehanna # 1 on annual list released today
American Rivers * Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Wednesday, April 13, 2005, 12:01 a.m Eastern
Sara Nicholas, American Rivers, (717) 232-8355 Eric Eckl, American Rivers, (202) 347-7550 ext. 3023 John Surrick, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, (443) 482-2045 Don Williams, (215) 513-9870
(Washington, D.C.) American Rivers and its partners today designated the Susquehanna River the nation’s Most Endangered River for 2005, citing the growing problem of sewage and dam construction along the river. The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report, now in its twentieth year, highlights rivers facing the most uncertain futures rather than those with the worst chronic problems. American Rivers and its partners called on federal and state officials to reject the dam and invest the resources necessary to clean up the Susquehanna River and restore the Chesapeake Bay downstream.
“The volume of untreated and poorly treated sewage that ends up the river is a serious threat to the health of the river and everyone who wants to enjoy it and the problem is poised to get worse,” said Rebecca R. Wodder, president of American Rivers. “Improving sewage treatment along the Susquehanna will go a long way towards saving the Chesapeake Bay, it’s a two for one bargain.”
The Susquehanna River flows through early industrial cities like Binghamton, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York. Many of the sewer systems and treatment plants in the watershed are no longer up to the task of protecting the river, the people who use it, and the Chesapeake Bay. The problem will get worse as the area grows -- the population in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is projected to increase by 3 million by the year 2020.
“A thunderstorm is sometimes all it takes to start millions of gallons of raw sewage, wastewater, hygiene products, and pharmaceuticals gushing into the river,” said Don Williams, a Susquehanna River advocate.
Even when the sewer systems are not overwhelmed, treatment is generally insufficient to remove enough nutrients to protect the river and bay. The Susquehanna River contributes half of the freshwater flows to the Chesapeake Bay-along with 40 percent of the nitrogen and 20 percent of the phosphorus that flows into the Bay.
“Pollution in the Susquehanna threatens not only the river itself but also the Chesapeake Bay. This pollution is a major, significant contributor to fish kills, underwater grass destruction, and the decline in oyster and crab populations in what was once the most productive estuary in the world,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said.
“Improved sewage infrastructure and increased funding to reduce agricultural pollution are critical investment needs essential to improving water quality in the Bay and Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams,” Baker said.
In the city of Wilkes-Barre, local officials are proposing to compound pollution problems by building a giant inflatable rubber dam across the Susquehanna to create a deep-water pool for jet skis and party barges. The conservation groups warned that the inflatable dam would trap pollution in the recreational area, posing significant health risks to human health from exposure to disease-causing pathogens and other germs found in polluted stormwater and inadequately treated sewage.
The conservation organizations called on federal and state officials to deny the permit application for the dam. The groups called on Pennsylvania lawmakers to pass State Sen. Raphael Musto’s bill to send a bond referendum to Pennsylvania voters. If passed, the $1 billion bond would create a Combined Sewer Overflow Grant Program to help communities clean up the Susquehanna and other rivers in the state.
In his proposed 2006 budget, President Bush asked the U.S. Congress to cut clean water assistance to Pennsylvania by more than $14 million and to slash other Chesapeake Bay cleanup measures, as well. Conservation groups urged Congress to reject the proposed budget cuts, and provide an additional $12 billion in assistance over the next six years that the governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia have requested to aid in the Susquehanna and Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
About America’s Most Endangered Rivers
If memory serves me, Uncle Paul needs both the city and the county to kick in some funding to make his deflatable dam a reality. And both the city and county are carrying some heavy, heavy outstanding debts as things currently stand.
As of this very moment, Wilkes-Barre is poised and ready for a big comeback. We've got quite a few 'spensive high-profile projects either underway, or about to get underway real soon, including a total reworking of our riverfront.
With things supposedly about to go our way for once, do we really want to dam thousands of gallons of untreated sewage just west of all of our overdue improvements to our overall quality of life? Do we? Do we really want to have to hold our noses when we show up for the grand reopening of the Hotel Sterling? Will we enjoy our brand spanking new waterfront attractions when the wind shifts and the stench starts wafting our way instead of towards Kingston? Do we want to pool the sewage that escapes our antiquated sewer systems and then wait years, maybe even decades to secure the massive amounts of federal pork dollars necessary to make the stench go away permanently?
I say Uncle Paul has it all ass-backwards. Yup. Sez me. Clean it and we'll frolic in it and upon it. Clean it and it becomes the big draw that so many of us envision it being one day. Clean it and...just freakin' clean it!
Tell Uncle Paul, our county commish types and the top guns from Wilkes-Barre to jam that dam where the sun can't warm the waters. Tell 'em. I will.
And do yourselves a huge favor. Click on the link below and consider gettin' out on that river when RiverFest '05 goes down on Saturday, June 4, 2005. It's one thing to glance down at that river every once in a great while. And it's a whole other thing to grab a paddle, a lifevest, a rescue whistle and experience that river one-on-one. Do it. Get out there and learn what can only be learned by making the journey down the Susquehanna.
Trust me on this.
Wyoming Valley Watershed Coalition
And this link will lead you directly to Kayak Dude's web locale. Give it a visit.
Susquehanna River Sentinel
As an astute, unbiased and vertically-challenged passenger in my kayak observed last year, "It's chocolate water! "
10-4. A kid barely three years-old absolutely nailed it. No one, that's nobody, is going to travel to Wilkes-Barre to enjoy our suddenly deeper "chocolate water."