After waving goodbye to the Chesapeake Watershed Forum this morning we headed towards Harrisburg for a canoe paddle on the Susquehanna. Throughout the semester thus far, the Susquehanna has come up often, and never in a positive light. Responsible for about half of the freshwater that flows into the Chesapeake, this river adds a huge amount of the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that degrades the Bay.
For the citizens of Pennsalvania, especially those on the Susquehanna, the Bay is an issue that they are constantly blamed for and regulated because of, yet they don’t even get to enjoy it. For those on the Chesapeake, the Susquehanna is an easy target to blame so that they do not have to be responsible for it.
As we got closer to our destination the landscape was covered with industry, urban development and what seemed like an endless row of bridges. I can’t honestly say I was looking forward to getting into this water that I guessed would be highly polluted and dirty. No one was more surprised than me when we pulled our canoes into the water and I could still see my toes. After our multiple paddles on the Chester River, this idea was almost foreign to me.
I hopped in the boat, guessing within a few feet we would surrounded by murky, brown water. In awe I realized the water would stay this crystal clear the entire trip. Looking back, I have no idea what the land on either side of the river looked like as I spent the next several hours staring at the rocky bottom. With our tour guide Steve, and the endless supply of knowledge of Dr. Levin, I learned and watched the river transform below me. With changes in water depth, velocity, proximity to mountains, land use on either side, and several other factors, we knew how and why the bottom looked and changed as it did.
We also used a macroinvertabrate survey along a small island we stopped at to tell pollution levels of the area. I would have never thought to turn over rocks and check the animals below to use their pollution tolerance as a safety measurement. Our conclusions after this survey found that the river is on the moderately to fully safe side without huge amounts of pollution.
This tool along with the clarity of the water through our trip showed me how important it is to get out an experience an issue of myself, especially when it is highly controversial and biased. While I know that the water turbidity and pollution levels change further down the Susquehanna, I will never be so quick to blame this river or believe those who say it is the main problem facing the Chesapeake.
Just as Steve explained to me as we finished our paddle, there is nothing more important, powerful or educational than actually getting out into the water. A textbook and classroom setting can only teach you so much, and experiences like today are the only way to take full advantage of taking our knowledge to the next level.