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It winds its way south from Otsego Lake near Cooperstown, New York, through the northern and central ranges of the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania. By the time it meets the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna River has flowed 444 miles. With an average daily rush of 22 billion gallons of water, the Susquehanna is the largest contributor of freshwater to the Bay. The Bay was formed over 10,000 years ago when what was then the Susquehanna River was flooded by rising sea levels. The quality and quantity of waters from the Susquehanna and its tributaries directly affect the Bay's health and productivity.

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Susquehanna River
One of the great wonders of the Chesapeake Bay watershed is that you can stand in southern New York state and place a small wooden boat in one of the tributaries of the Susquehanna River and follow it into and through the Chesapeake Bay and then out into the Atlantic Ocean.

In the mid-Atlantic states, it's called the "Mighty Susquehanna." It's the largest river lying entirely within the United States that drains into the Atlantic Ocean and the 16th largest river in the United States. The River's 27,500-square-mile watershed covers parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. This is about 43 percent of the Bay's 64,000 square miles of drainage basin.


You might be standing by Otsego Lake, near Cooperstown, New York, when you put your boat into a stream and watch it float along with the current as water drains off the land and flows downstream. You realize you're about 290 miles from Baltimore, as the crow flies, but the way the streams and river wind their way over the land, your small boat will travel over 400 miles before it arrives at Havre de Grace, MD near the River's mouth.

During your travels you learn about the river and start to make some mental notes as you observe the native Brook Trout in the streams and see that over half of the river's watershed is covered in forests. Some of the history reveals that native tribes along the river were identified as Sasquesahannocks who eventually became known as Susquehannocks. Some say the Susquehannock word Queischachgekhanne, which may have been altered to Susquehannock, meant "the long reach river." Others think the word Susquehanock may have come from the Delaware Indian word saskwihannang. (To learn more about the name of the Susquehanna River, read Watershed Radio's Misnamed River.)

The Susquehanna River is almost a mile wide as your boat floats by Harrisburg, PA. If you're following your boat during the summer, the river flows about 20 miles per day. When your boat reaches the mouth of the river, approximately 20 days after you started your journey, the Susquehanna is pushing 18 million gallons of freshwater a minute into the Chesapeake Bay. This is about 90 percent of the freshwater for the upper half of the Bay and about 50 percent for the entire Bay.

Now your boat is in the Chesapeake Bay and continues to make its way south. The freshwater of the river and salt waters of the ocean mix to form brackish water of salinities ranging from 0 parts per thousand (fresh) to over 30 parts per thousand at the Bay's mouth. Now your boat has completed its watershed journey as it is swept out into the Atlantic Ocean.

For more information on the Susquehanna River and its watershed, visit the website of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Susquehanna River Basin Commission
More maps and information about the Susquehanna River and its watershed.

Part of the EarthTones Series is made possible by a partnership between GreenWorks, and the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club.