Christina River

Rivers, Coves, and Harbors by Rail

By Jennie Saxe

I love traveling by train. I commute to work by train and occasionally my family substitutes a train trip for a long car ride to avoid traffic and the confined space of our car (which somehow seems to shrink with each passing hour). Traveling by train also give you a unique perspective on the landscape – when you’re less concerned about the brake lights in front of you, you get a chance to really take in what’s around you.

View of the Connecticut coast from my train seat

View of the Connecticut coast from my train seat

One of the things that I was able to enjoy on a recent train trip to Boston was the amazing waterfront scenery along our route. However, on this journey – which began on the Christina River, continued across the Delaware River, glided all along the coves and harbors on Long Island Sound, and ultimately ended near Boston Harbor – I not only saw the beauty in nature, but also the many, varied connections we have with our waterways:

Recreation. Industry. Infrastructure. Homes. History.

These are just some of our links to the water. Waterways in the mid-Atlantic and in New England are rich in history and have been valued for their contributions to society for hundreds of years. Industry and agriculture depend on clean, reliable water supplies. Recreation on the water is an important element of our life and of livelihoods in the northeast. Much of our infrastructure and many communities are located near the water, a pattern established early in our nation’s history. The flip side: all of these activities also put stress on water quality and quantity. For a big-picture look at the strains on our water resources, as well as the importance of water to our economy, check out this interesting report from EPA.

Clearly, our coastal areas are vitally important to our economy and our way of life, but they are also some of the areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels associated with climate change. EPA’s climate change website chronicles some of the specific changes anticipated for the northeastern U.S. as well as some of the planning that communities in the northeast are doing to help them adapt to a changing climate. EPA also has drafted climate change adaptation implementation plans to ensure that we continue to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment as we continue to adjust to a “new normal” in terms of our climate.

I’m not sure what changes I’ll see in our coastal areas on my next rail adventure, or on a train trip to New England 20 years from now. My kids will probably be the ones to notice changes during their lifetimes. I believe that when you feel connected to something, it instills in you a sense of stewardship and preservation. Every time we take this journey up the east coast, we’ll take some time to take off our earphones, put away the tablet, and just gaze out the window to appreciate our connections to the water resources in our region.

About the Author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children, cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, and – obviously – traveling by train.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrating Mushrooms, Farmers, and Watersheds in Kennett Square

By Christina Catanese

“What’s that smell?” I asked, as we got out of the car in front of my friend’s house in Kennett Square, PA.

“Oh, the mushroom compost?” Jaclyn said. “I don’t even smell that anymore.”

It wasn’t an unpleasant smell, but an earthy aroma that permeated the air the same way the culture of mushroom farming pervades this small Pennsylvania town.

Mushrooms are a way of life in Kennett Square.  Often called the Mushroom Capital of the World, mushroom farms in this area of Southeastern Pennsylvania produce the vast majority of mushrooms produced in the United States, outdone only by China in mushroom farming worldwide.  I heard some figures that mushroom farms in Chester County produce over a million pounds of mushrooms a week!

Enjoying a beautiful day in the Kennett Square community

Enjoying a beautiful day in the Kennett Square community

Every year, this proud tradition of mushroom farming is celebrated at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival.  I attended this year’s festival a few weeks ago, where I expected to and did eat many types and forms of mushrooms (including but not limited to the classic deep fried mushroom balls, the higher brow mushroom gorgonzola hummus, and even cream of mushroom ice cream).

What I didn’t expect was to learn so much about mushroom farming itself, and its role in the health of the watershed of the Delaware River, Red and White Clay Creek, and other local streams.  Part of the festival was an exhibition that walked through the process of growing mushrooms.  It really gave me an appreciation of the amount of work these farmers have to do to grow their crops.

A mushroom farmer harvests white button mushrooms from his exhibition at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival

A mushroom farmer harvests white button mushrooms from his exhibition at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival

It all starts with the substrate (the material the mushrooms are grown in), which generally consists of the waste products from other agriculture industries.  This mix of manure, hay, straw, wood chips, cottonseed meal, cocoa shells, and gypsum has to be kept at just the right temperature, pH, and light conditions in indoor mushroom farms, so the right fungi thrive and the wrong ones that could spoil the crop do not.  Once the mushrooms sprouted, I couldn’t believe how fast they grew, sometimes doubling in size in a single day!

After mushrooms are harvested, the substrate material can’t be used for mushroom farming anymore.  As at any farm, this compost can be a source of runoff and enter streams if not managed properly.  Source water protection efforts in the Delaware River Basin identified mushroom farms in the watershed as a partnership opportunity to help reduce nutrient pollution and potential sources of Cryptosporidium, a pathogen often found in manure that may cause disease.  These efforts work with farmers and conservation districts to set up ways to manage this runoff and protect sources of drinking water.

Phase 2 Compost: what the spent mushroom substrate looks like after mushrooms have been harvested and before it comes to your lawn or garden

Phase 2 Compost: what the spent mushroom substrate looks like after mushrooms have been harvested and before it comes to your lawn or garden

With its high capacity to hold water and nutrients, mushroom compost can be used as compost in many applications, like crop and garden fertilization, erosion control, and stormwater management.  Fall is the best time to seed new lawns and fertilize, so if you’re embarking on this process, consider mushroom or other organic soil amendments for your plants.  Like any fertilizer, mushroom compost must be applied appropriately to avoid nutrient pollution.

 

By the end of the day at the festival, I didn’t notice the smell of the mushroom compost much anymore, either.  When I did catch a whiff, it reminded me that this compost (like the mushroom ice cream I ate) was just one stage of a much larger process of mushroom farming.  It wasn’t the beginning or end, but part of a continuing cycle of growing, harvesting, consuming, and composting…all while boosting local economies and protecting local waters along the way.

 

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Embarking into the Christina River Basin

By Andrea Bennett

Flowing through rolling hills, forests and farms, small and big towns, the Brandywine, White Clay and Red Clay Creeks, and the Christina River constitute the watershed of the Christina River Basin, which then empties into the Delaware River. This beautiful watershed is historically significant as a site where Revolutionary battles were fought, as well as the area where one of America’s most famous painters, Andrew Wyeth, flourished.  This watershed also provides over 100 million gallons of drinking water per day for over 500,000 people in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Barclay Hoopes Dairy Farm Before and After Restoration

Barclay Hoopes Dairy Farm Before and After Restoration

Many nonprofit and governmental organizations are implementing projects and programs to protect the watershed and its sources of drinking water.  Several years ago, these groups received an EPA Targeted Watershed Grant of $1 million to support the health of the watershed by restoring streams and installing agricultural and stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce runoff flowing into streams and groundwater.

I had the opportunity to see some of these BMPs in action recently on the annual Christina River Basin Bus Tour, sponsored by the Chester County Conservation District (CCCD), the Brandywine Valley Association, the Water  Resources Agency at the University of Delaware, and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. As we traveled through the watershed, Bob Struble, executive director of the Brandywine Valley Association, pointed out stream restoration and watershed protection projects.

At the Barclay Hoopes dairy farm, Mr. Hoopes showed us 1,500 feet of stream bank fencing installed to reduce manure loading to White Clay Creek. United Water Delaware and the City of Newark worked with the CCCD to install these fences to help prevent Cryptosporidium (a protozoan that can cause gastrointestinal illness) from entering the water.

We also stopped at the Stroud Water Research Center where we saw a brand new LEED-certified education building – the Moorhead Environmental Complex. The Center manages stormwater run-off through natural landscaping with porous surfaces, a green roof, and rain gardens with native vegetation.  The new building has a plethora of energy efficient technologies, including radiant heating, natural ventilation, solar power, and high efficiency windows.  Wherever possible, the center uses materials that were found locally, sustainably harvested, reclaimed, or recycled, and have low emissions of pollutants.

Kennett Square Golf Course Before and After Restoration

Kennett Square Golf Course Before and After Restoration

We visited the Kennett Square Golf Course and Country Club where Paul Stead,  the Superintendent, gave us a tour of the stream bank and flood plain restoration of the section of Red Clay Creek, which flows through the golf course. Because Mr. Stead educated the club membership about the importance of protecting the watershed, this project was funded not only by a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Growing Greener Grant, but also by members of the golf club itself. The result is improved flood control, less impact to Red Clay Creek during storm events, and a more scenic golf course.

These are just some of the projects going on right now in the beautiful Christina River Basin.  Not only do they help to protect sources of drinking water, they also ensure that the basin remains a wonderful place to visit. The basin is one of my favorite places to go kayaking, hiking, and birding, and it’s easy to see how the White Clay Creek was designated as a National Wild and Scenic River in 2000.

As I left Myrick Conservation Center that day, it was fitting that I saw a Bald Eagle, a national symbol of America’s environmental treasures.  It’s one more reason to protect the waters of the Christina River Basin, so that eagles, as well as humans, have a clean and safe water resource today and in the future.

About the Author: Andrea Bennett has been with EPA for over twenty years as an Environmental Scientist in the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, she conducted ornithological research and produced films. When outside of the office Andrea enjoys birding and playing the mandolin.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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