U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt visited Harrisburg June 5 for a brief paddle down part of the Susquehanna River before signing a habitat restoration agreement for the river's watershed.

The agreement, between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pennsylvania Field Office, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the EPA, will help pick up the pace of habitat restoration activities which benefit Bay-related species throughout the Susquehanna basin.

Through the agreement, the Alliance will work with other organizations to build a "pool" of volunteers available for restoration work and to identify potential restoration sites. The USF&WS would provide technical expertise for the restoration projects.

The agreement also makes the USF&WS's Pennsylvania Field Office a member of the Chesapeake Bay Program, a cooperative effort between federal agencies, the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia; the District of Columbia and local governments to restore the Chesapeake.

Babbitt's visit to Harrisburg was part of his "National Heritage Tour" aimed at highlighting the importance of environmental protection throughout the nation. In Harrisburg, he praised improvements made to the Susquehanna since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

"Twenty years ago, this was a sewer," Babbitt said. "Today, it has been cleaned up. The cities, the people are coming back to the river. That's a tremendous accomplishment."

But, he cautioned, the gains could be temporary. "Congress, ironically, just as we are having such success is now threatening to gut the Clean Water Act," Babbitt said, referring to a controversial rewrite of the law that cleared the House last year but has been stalled in the Senate.