Meet the group responsible for the improvement in the quality of the Lehigh River


Steve Chuckra grew up in Luzerne County and left to join the Air Force when he was 17 years old. 

When he returned after 30 years away from the Lehigh Valley, Chuckra wanted to focus on improving the environment. 

“(The outdoors was) all I had growing up, so traveling around and seeing different places, I developed a sense for the importance of water quality and outdoor recreation,” he said. 

When Chuckra returned home, he found his new passion in life from a friend who was involved with the Lehigh River Stocking Association, a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the restoration and restocking of the Lehigh River. 

Chuckra, who is now the vice president at the Lehigh River Stocking Association, said when he first started, they didn’t have an environmental focus — it was strictly a stocking association, which means that they would stock fish and make sure there’s enough fish in the river for anglers. But nine years ago, they decided to start measuring the water quality. 

While there were several reasons why they started measuring the quality of the water, Matt MacConnell, a former president and newsletter editor who now serves as a current board member, said in an email a key purpose to why they started measuring water quality was to convince people that the water was suitable for stocking trout.

They first started their environmental focus by installing a pollution mediation system and since then, they have been monitoring and maintaining the water quality. 

What once turned into an idea nine years ago has now turned into something extensive. 

“(We focus on improving water quality) by annual tributary survey and 24/7 monitoring in the Lehigh (River) to baseline normal and ID any abnormal events,“ MacConnell said in an email. 

Chuckra said the Lehigh River Stocking Association’s water quality management program is “real-time” that runs from March through October. 

“We have probes in the basin that tell us key information about the habitat,” Chuckra said. “The prime one is temperature. We also measure oxygen, nitrates and specific conductance. They’re the four key metrics that we look at six months out of the year.” 

Not only is there an environmental benefit to there being a healthy water quality, but also an economic benefit.

It wouldn’t be feasible to partake in many outdoor activities if the Lehigh River has a poor water quality. 

“Water quality is vitality important, people raft and kayak in the river, they swim, fish, walk along with it, and they enjoy the wildlife that benefits from a healthy environment, too,” Chuckra said. 

The water quality has benefited from the Lehigh River Stocking Association.

Jim Deebel, former secretary and treasurer of the Lehigh River Stocking Association, said when he first moved to the Lehigh Valley, there was no fishing: It was low-quality water. 

He said it’s constantly improved in the past 20 years. 

“The water quality isn’t as good as it was a couple hundred years ago, and it’s not as good as it might be, but it is getting better,” Deebel said.

Despite COVID-19 limiting the things people can do, the Lehigh River Stocking Association is still able to do their job. When the pandemic hit, many people resorted to the great outdoors to keep themselves busy, which increased the number of people who used the river. 



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