The Susquehanna River
The following information was provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), as part of their Watershed Education Campaign.
Susquehanna River Basin Facts
Length of River:
- Total: 27,510 square miles
- In Pennsylvania: 20,960 square miles
Headwaters to Mouth:
- Susquehanna River is 444 miles.
Major Tributaries in Pennsylvania:
- The Susquehanna flows from Otsego Lake, Cooperstown, NY to Harve de Grace, MD, where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Population along River:
- Juniata, Lackawanna, Susquehanna and West Branch Susquehanna Rivers.
Major Cities in Pennsylvania:
- 3.8 million people.
Who Is Responsible for the Overall Management of the Water Basin?
- Altoona, Bedford, Carbondale, Carlisle, Clearfield, Harrisburg, Hollidaysburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lewistown, Lock Haven, State College, Scranton, Sunbury, Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport, York.
Economic Importance and Uses:
- Susquehanna River Basin Commission.
- The land and water of the Basin sustain the farms and industry that are the life blood of the economy for over half of Pennsylvania and beyond.
- The forests and waters attract outdoor enthusiasts from all over the country and the world, thus creating a steadily growing tourism industry.
- The Susquehanna provides a source of electricity for people within its basin and beyond. The river's water is harnessed for hydroelectric power generation and is used for cooling the turbines of both nuclear and non-nuclear power plants.
- The water of the Susquehanna is used in the manufacturing of a variety of products such as steel and paper.
- Millions of gallons of water are used daily by food processing facilities located throughout southern Pennsylvania.
- The Susquehanna is a source of drinking water for millions of people (446 million gallons of water per day at peak use).
- Agriculture is a leading industry throughout much of Pennsylvania, and the lands comprising the Susquehanna River Basin are no exception. Dairy, cattle, chicken, egg, hog, fruit, and feed and vegetable crop production can all be found within the basin. Some of the most fertile agricultural land in the United States is located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
- Transportation of people, products, and coal by means of an extensive canal system (river is nonnavigable).
- Coal, washed into the river from mining operation, was commercially dredged and sold.
- Prior to the construction of three dams on the lower Susquehanna, commercial shad fishing was conducted on the river. The dams, coupled with some water quality problems, put an end to the annual shad migrations and the fishing.
- Logs and lumber from the forests and sawmills of northcentral Pennsylvania were "floated" down the river to market. Dams were constructed along the way to control water levels.
Pennsylvania State Parks in the Susquehanna River Basin:
- Bird watching, boating, canoeing, fishing, hunting, and swimming.
- Archbald Pothole, Bald Eagle, Big Spring, Black Moshannon, Blue Knob, Bucktail, Canoe Creek, Cherry Springs, Codorus, Colonel Denning, Colton Point, Cowans Gap, Denton Hill, Frances Slocum, Fowler's Hollow, Gifford Pinchot, Greenwood Furnace, Hills Cr eek, Hyner Run, Hyner View, Kettle Creek, Kings Gap, Lackawanna, Leonard Harrison, Little Pine, Locust Lake, Lyman Run, McCall Dam, Memorial Lake, Milton, Mount Pisgah, Nescopeck, Ole Bull, Parker Dam, Patterson, Penn Roosevelt, Pine Grove Furnace, Poe Pa ddy, Poe Valley, Prince Gallitzin, Prouty Place, R.B. Winter, Ravensburg, Reeds Gap, Ricketts Glen, S.B. Elliot, Salt Spring, Samuel E. Lewis, Sand Bridge, Shawnee, Shikellamy, Sizerville, Sinnemahoning, Susquehanna, Susquehannock, Swatara, Trough Creek, Upper Pine Bottom, Warrior's Path, Whipple Dam, Worlds End.
- Flowing across 3 physiographic provinces, the river begins in the Appalachian Plateau Province, then curves its way through the Valley and Ridge Province and the Piedmont on its way to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
More Detailed Information About the Susquehanna River and its Basin
- The river is almost a mile wide at Harrisburg.
- 60% of its watershed is forested.
- It comprises 43% of the Chesapeake Bay's drainage area (the river itself provides over 50% of the freshwater that enters into the Bay).
- It is the 16th largest river in the United States.
- It is the largest commercially non-nagavigable river in North America.
- It is the largest river lying entirely in the U.S. that drains into the Atlantic Ocean.
- The basin is one of the most flood prone areas of the United States. Major floods occur every 20 years. Average annual flood damage is $113 million.
- It has an operating ferry at Millersburg, Pennsylvania.
Susquehanna River Basin Character Statement:
The Susquehanna River begins it journey at Otsego Lake near Cooperstown, New York. The River meanders southward through Pennsylvania until it joins the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay at Harve De Grace, Maryland and then on to the Atlantic Ocean. Flowing a distance of 444 miles, it is a river as rich in history as it is in natural resources and beauty.
The Susquehanna is one of the largest rivers on the eastern coast of the United States. Considered Pennsylvania's river, the Susquehanna drains 46% of the state. More than three-quarters of the entire river basin (20,960 square miles) is located in Pennsylvania. The remainder of the basin is located in the states of New York (6,275 square miles) and Maryland (275 square miles).
The basin is home to approximately 3.8 million people who use its water resources for drinking as well as agricultural and industrial purposes. A total of 19 million gallons a minute of freshwater flows from the Susquehanna into the Chesapeake Bay, supplying the Bay with half of its freshwater.
Flowing across three physiographic provinces, the river begins in the Appalachian Plateau Province, which is characterized by rugged hills of gently tilted sandstones and shales. It then curves its way through the Valley and Ridge Province past forests and farmlands, small historic towns, major industries, and transportation routes. The Valley and Ridge Province is where resistant sandstone and crystalline rocks produce long narrow ridges separated by long valleys underlain by shales and limestones. The river flows through the Piedmont Province, which is dominated by rolling lowlands and broad highlands and ridges before it empties into the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The origin of the Susquehanna's name and its precise meaning is uncertain. The suffix, hanna, is Algonquin for "stream or river". During his 1608 exploration of the river, Captain John Smith was accompanied by interpreters who spoke Algonquin, which probably accounts for the suffix usage in the river's name. Smith refered to the natives who he met on the river as Sasquesahannocks and Sasquesahanougs. The tribe eventually came to be known as Susquehannocks.
An eighteenth-century authority on Indians and place names claimed that the Susquehanna was a corruption of the word Queischachgekhanne, which means "the long reach river", a name used to refer to the river's west branch. Still others speculate that the name means "long crooked river". To the contrary, others favor "the place of the straight river", based on a translation of the Delaware word saskwihanang.
Riparian forest buffers along the Susquehanna River