The Susquehanna River

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., one of the most important cities along the Susquehanna River.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., one of the most important cities along the Susquehanna River.

5. Description

The River Susquehanna carries its waters trough the eastern part of the United States. Lake Otsego, situated in upstate New York, gives birth to the Susquehanna River, and then its fresh water proceeds through the Appalachian Mountain Plateau, a relatively flat plateau also known as the Piedmont, to form the Susquehanna River Valley. From there, two branches of the Susquehanna merge and empty into the saline waters of the Atlantic Ocean coast at the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

4. Historical Role

According to J. F. Cooper, two Indian tribes traditionally lived along the shores of the Susquehanna. One of them was called the Susquehannock, from which comes the name of the Susquehanna, with the other native group being the Lenape. The Susquehannock were known to have lived along the river Susquehanna from the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay, across Pennsylvania, and into New York. Susquehannock name means "People of the Muddy River." Another version claims that the name of the river comes from an Indian phrase meaning "a mile wide and a foot deep," referring to the Susquehanna's unusual dimensions. The Susquehannock people were hunters, farmers, and fishermen, and traded with the first English settlers to arrive at Jamestown, Virginia, as well as with the French and the Dutch. In spite of this, it was an aggressive and militant tribe, being in constant conflict with other tribes. The Susquehannock moved to the valley in the beginning of 12th Century. By the end of 18th Century, after a series of wars, devastation, and diseases, the tribe ultimately ceased to exist. The Lenape people populated the area in the 17th Century, along the western border of the territory known as Lenapehoking. In the 18th Century William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania Colony, negotiated with the Lenape to allow whites to build a settlement between the Delaware River and the Susquehanna. At the end of the colonial era, in the upper reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, the deposits of a higher grade coal, known as anthracite, were discovered, which prompted increased use of the river as a transportation channel.

3. Modern Significance

With a length of almost 1,000 kilometers, and an entire basin area of 60,000 square kilometers, it provides drinking water for the three States, turns the turbines in several hydroelectric plants, cools the uranium rods in the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant, and is a home to large variety of flora and fauna. Today, the Susquehanna River is ideal for boating, fishing, camping and observing wildlife as well. Fishermen may expect to catch salmon, trout, eels, lamprey, herring, smelt, perch, catfish, silverside, bass and sunfish. Wide but shallow waters make the Susquehanna not well suited for commercial navigation, but they remain appropriate for fishing all throughout the year. Winter fishing under the ice attracts fishermen from December through March, when much of the river becomes ice-covered.

2. Habitat and Biodiversity

Fish of the Susquehanna include Salmon, trout, eels, lamprey, gar, herring, smelt, perch, herring, catfish, cod, killfish, silverside, bass, sunfish, drum, sculpin. Birds of the region count among them Eagles, Ospreys, Hawks, Short-eared (Asio flammeus). The Susquehanna's reptiles and amphibians include frogs, toads, turtles, snakes, salamanders, and newts. Mammals of the area include deer, bears, mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, shrews, moles, voles, porcupines, foxes, weasels, skunks, and raccoons.

1. Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes

Mammals such as deer, bears, squirrels, rabbits, foxes, raccoons are well preserved in the Susquehanna watershed, though the pollution threat here is one we cannot turn a blind eye to. The Susquehanna's pollutants fall into three categories: nutrients, sediments, and toxins. Nutrients include nitrogen and phosphorus which are applied to crops as fertilizer. A sediment factor appears when the land in the lower Susquehanna basin is farmed with conventional tillage -whereby the soil is disturbed and can be carried down to the river by the rain water. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Management Study proved that, in addition to excess nutrients and sediment, 12,531 pounds of toxic metals flow through the Susquehanna each day.


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