Raw sewage in Susquehanna River creates concerns for residents

For four years, Ilyse Kazar has been collecting water samples from 10 different spots along the Susquehanna River.

“We are sampling for E. Coli and fecal contamination,” Kazar told CBS 21 News’ Samantha York. “A couple of sites tested much cleaner than in past years but then there’s sites that still have astronomical equal or higher levels.”

She’s a Harrisburg resident concerned with raw sewage in the river flowing in her backyard.

“The sewer system here has been neglected for decades,” Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Ted Evgeniadis explained. “Capitol Region Water inherited a mess, they are now tasked to fix it.”

Harrisburg has a combined sewer system. Sewage and stormwater pass through the same pipes and those pipes can only handle so much water, so rainfall causes them to overflow into the river.

“When we see rain, obviously we’re going to have combined sewer overflow,” Evgeniadis continued. “But when we don’t see any rain, that’s when we have huge problems.”

Despite very little rain in recent months, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper is finding high levels of bacteria.

“Which shouldn’t happen,” Evgeniadis added.

“A lot of diseases are carried by raw sewage going into rivers,” Kazar said.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court is set to consider a case on Monday with the potential of scaling back the federal Clean Water Act, which has established water quality standards for U.S. waterways for 50 years.

“If the court rules a very narrow division of water can be protected by the Clean Water Act, it will mean that many of these smaller waterways that dump into our larger rivers will not be protected,” PennEnvironment Deputy Director Ashleigh Deemer explained.

“To see rollbacks of the Clean Water Act like we’ve seen previously in the last couple of years is detrimental, again, to public health and to our species that live in this river,” Evgeniadis said.

It’s a ruling that could take the footing away from environmentalists like Kazar.

“The weaker you make the laws, the harder it is for environmentalists,” she said. “Many of whom are doing this on their own time for the love of the environment.”

Instead of scaling back regulations, environmentalists want to see more enforcement. They also want to see more investments from the state and state legislators getting involved in the effort.

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