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Environment & Energy

Hot, Dry Conditions Halt Water Withdrawals from Susquehanna

Near-drought conditions persist throughout the Susquehanna River Basin, and businesses that usually take large amounts of water out of the system's streams and rivers are being told to stop.

It's mostly natural gas companies that have seen their water withdrawal permits suspended, but others got the kibosh as well: resorts, golf courses, a trout park and hatchery.

Susan Obleski of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission said the list of who can withdraw water from the Susquehanna River and its tributaries is constantly changing. On Monday, 64 permits were suspended. Obleski called it "somewhat of a peak." By Tuesday, that number had dropped to 57.

"We've been actually on a roller coaster ride actually, starting in February," said Obleski. "Some of the earliest suspension started in February."

The commission has automatic restrictions on siphoning water. They're called pass-by restrictions, referring to how much water must pass by the various withdrawal points throughout the basin. The restrictions are automatically triggered when tributary levels get too low.

"Because of the ongoing lack of normal precipitation amounts, streams and rivers are starting to drop. Some have been dropping for some time," said Obleski.

The SRBC doesn't have this problem every summer. Last year, the basin's stream and river levels were at record-breaking depths due to storms and flooding.

The withdrawal suspensions have affected more than 30 companies, including one in New York. Obleski said gas companies are "fully prepared" to deal with suspended water withdrawal permits when the river basin is in a "low flow period," because the SRBC's pass-by restrictions are so conservative.

"They do tend to kick in even long before any drought declarations are issued," she said. She added that restrictions kick in faster in northern Pennsylvania, where the Susquehanna's tributaries are smaller, although rainfall deficits are actually the most severe in the southernmost counties of the river basin.