The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Bringing the Susquehanna to Gettysburg

Two miles upstream sits the Gettysburg Municipal Authority wastewater treatment plantWhen I was young, I lived on the shores of a lake of some 500 acres. The deepest part of the pond was, I think, about 80 feet – “The Hole,” my dad called it when he went fishing for quarry gone down to escape the too-warm surface water.

Around the lake were three year-round residences, and a few clusters of summer cottages. In winter, when the summer folks had gone back to town, two families remained; one was ours. The third year-round home was owned by a family who lived in town, spent weekends in Summer and none in Winter, and had enough money to make their summer cottage like their in-town home – large, with indoor “facilities.”

On that lake I learned that Chain Pickerel are territorial fish – long and torpedo-like, green with a logging chain pattern down its side, its fins set back on its body like the wings on a fighter jet, and a pointed snout completing the image of a fast and vicious hunter, with teeth that invited care on the part of any fisherman lucky enough to land one. If you catch one dinner-size fish living in a particular patch of Lilly pads, or a certain deadfall along the shore, fishing was finished in that location for at least a week.

Fortunately, it was a large enough pond to provide lots of places to find pickerel for a Catholic family’s Friday evening supper.

Eventually, I graduated high school, joined the Navy, and after a 20-year career, returned to the lake where I’d grown up.

Houses were, by then, three rows deep in several places. Many septic systems had replaced the few outhouses. Many new homes had been constructed as year-round residences, and a large number of former “camps” – located where, had they not already existed, they could no longer have legally been built – had been converted to four-season homes.

And the pickerel were mostly gone, chased off by new landowners who had cleaned up the deadfalls and weeds from the fishes’ favorite haunts to create lawns and beaches and places to moor their boats. When I left, nearly 15 years later, to become an Adams County resident, there was talk of public water and sewer to supply the burgeoning human population and to protect the lake water. It is a situation similar to that in Adams County, particularly from Gettysburg eastward.

The Gettysburg Municipal Authority wants to buy two million gallons a day from York Water Company. The water would be piped, at the expense of existing and future property owners alike, about 30 miles from the Susquehanna River. That’s what happens when a growing population of humans take up housekeeping in a place where the water supply is finite.

No one will run out of water as long as we have pipe and the money to lay it. Two million gallons a day could serve as many as 10,000 new households. When the housing market crashed in 2006, there were 8,000 new homes in various stages of review. GMA General Manager Mark Guise has suggested some of the new water would be surplus, against the day when the EPA changes its rules and Gettysburg loses a couple of its existing wells. One might well wonder why that would be a concern.

And what’s the plan for when two million gallons a day are no longer enough – and other regions and industries are clamoring for a larger share of the Susquehanna River?

What happens when two million gallons a day of wastewater are added to Rock Creek, which will take it to the Potomac River?

It seems there are sufficient questions to stoke a serious public discussion – before the economic climate builds more homes and the atmospheric climate shuts off the water supply.


  1. I already know DEP’s answer: 2 million gallons a day is a drop in the bucket. The millions of gallons taken from upstream for frac mining are all drops in the bucket. It makes you wonder how big the bucket really is.

    • “A drop here, a drop there…and pretty soon you’re talking about real water.”

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