Harrisburg Water Quality
The issue in Harrisburg is ongoing. Discharges of sewage from Harrisburg’s antiquated, combined sewer and stormwater system are still having a great impact on local water quality.
The levels of E. coli and fecal coliform in the River from Harrisburg’s antiquated sewer system are alarmingly high. Over the course of 2019 and 2020, LSRA monitored the bacteria levels of the waters in the Susquehanna River and Paxton Creek downstream of the City’s combined sewage outfalls by collecting water samples and submitting these samples for testing at an independent laboratory, ALS Environmental of Middletown, PA.
The results from this monitoring effort suggest that just one-tenth of an inch of rain will cause combined sewer overflows containing bacteria levels above and beyond the state standards for recreation.
From June 15 to July 31, 2019, we collected samples that showed that E. coli levels along Harrisburg’s waterfront averaged almost three times higher than levels considered safe for water-contact recreation.
On seven of these days, E. coli concentrations were more than 10 times above safe levels, including areas just downstream of outfalls leading from the Governor’s Residence and the Capitol Office Complex. Between June 5 and July 31, 2020, we collected 60 different water samples from 3 locations on Harrisburg’s riverfront, and the results showed that E. coli levels exceeded standards for safe swimming or water contact recreation in 20 out of these 60 samples (33 percent). In fact, the average E. coli level (610) was almost 2.5 times higher than safe levels.
Combined sewer overflow (CSO) has been a prolonged issue in the City of Harrisburg. As a Waterkeeper organization, we focus on environmental justice as it relates to water pollution affecting our communities, especially underprivileged and underrepresented communities. The City of Harrisburg suffers from poverty with a median household income of roughly $32,000 and is largely comprised of communities of color, with over 75% of the population identifying as black, Hispanic, Latino or Asian. These residents and those who swim, fish, and otherwise recreate in these waters deserve a cleaner Susquehanna River free from raw sewage and unsafe bacteria levels that can cause illness or death. The people of Harrisburg are being disenfranchised by the responsible parties’ continued delay in reaching a final consent decree that would reduce combined sewer overflows as effectively and expeditiously as possible.
The City of Harrisburg’s combined sewer system has not been properly maintained in decades. The work being done currently by Capital Region Water is maintenance that should have been performed on an ongoing basis years ago. The residents of Harrisburg and anyone who visits the City are robbed of their absolute right to clean water as stated in the state constitution, at the state capitol!
Except us, no one is doing anything about it. Capital Region Water’s long term control plan does not appropriately address CSO. The public is being charged a stormwater fee over 20 years and the city isn’t going to actually fix the problem. That is a criminal act at the expense of an already underprivileged community.
Our job is to protect public health and preserve the right for anyone’s ability to swim, fish and drink. You cannot swim around the city since the city is dumping millions of gallons (over a billion in 2018) of CSO and our data proved that levels of bacteria in the river is a tremendous human health issue.
It is unfortunate that in today’s world we are still dealing with raw sewage entering a waterway on a regular consistent basis. However, we are looking at legal strategies at the moment to help fix this problem and will be taking action soon.