To get to this year’s Choose Clean Water Coalition conference in Harrisburg, PA., most of those traveling from other portions of the Chesapeake Bay watershed had to cross the Susquehanna River.

The 444-milelong river is the largest tributary to the Bay and gets its name from a Native American word meaning oyster river. Its more than 27,000-square-mile watershed comprises 43 percent of the land area in the Bay watershed and is where more than half of the water flowing into it originates.

As Eric Papenfuse, mayor of Harrisburg, the city that’s also the capital of Pennsylvania, said in his opening remarks at the conference that river also is “the lifeblood of Harrisburg.”

“It’s what defines us. The river is now a source of our collective hopes for the future,” he said, moving on to ask the question that was central at this sixth annual conference on clean water: “Will we be able to have a clean river?”

As Andrew Gavin, deputy executive director of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, said at the conference, 15 percent of the streams in the river’s watershed have some kind of documented pollution problem. The sources of that pollution — agriculture, industry, urban development — mirror those of every other region in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

But, as clean water advocates converged on the more than 200-year-old city, local officials wanted to tout their efforts to not only improve water quality but also to embrace the river that is among the city’s biggest assets.

Shannon Williams, CEO of Capital Region Water, which provides the drinking water, stormwater and sewage treatment services to the city, said that beautifying the historic city along with its river is not a new endeavor.

A recently launched program to restore historic and practical infrastructure in the city called “City Beautiful H2O” is based loosely on efforts the city originally took to do just that at the turn of the 20th century.

Williams said she was thrilled to recently come across a city report from 1901 that, in an effort to improve the state of the river, proposed infrastructure improvements to curb pollution and provide more civic and recreational access to the river.

“The outcome of this report was to build a sewer interceptor along Front Street and the Susquehanna River,” she said. “We are fortunate that these folks said, ‘We don’t want to just do infrastructure. We want to improve the community.’”

Williams said residents voted to enter into debt to complete many of the projects that still stand today. Her department is also in the process of completing costly renovations to improve that century-old infrastructure throughout the city (hence the play on version 2.0 in the name of the program). She showed photos of a 100-year-old pipe that runs under an historic part of the city to supply drinking water being replaced. She said there are many others like it.

The city’s drinking water comes from the DeHart Reservoir and arrives in nearly pristine condition due to protection by mostly public land holdings upriver, Williams said.

As water leaves the city, Williams said, Capital Region Water’s wastewater treatment plant is Pennsylvania’s single largest point source of polluting nutrients to the Chesapeake Bay. The utility is in the midst of a $20-million upgrade to its wastewater treatment facilities to meet water quality requirements.

“We are ahead of schedule and, when we come online, we really are going to hit it out of the park,” Williams said.

Conference attendees had the option that afternoon to paddle on the Susquehanna River or get a historic tour of the city and its waterfront.

But before they left for the tours, Williams pointed out a wooden bar-on-wheels at the back of the room at the Harrisburg Hilton, where a banner touted the city’s “raindrop to river” clean water campaign. And she encouraged them to stop by the spigot and fill their water bottles from the city’s tap before heading out.