Delaware River

Make Some Noise: the Clean Water Act Turns 40!

By Jon Capacasa

There are all sorts of noises being made in celebration of today’s 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

Fire on Cuyahoga River Jun 29, 1969

Fire on Cuyahoga River Jun 29, 1969: The Cuyahoga River in Ohio becomes so polluted that it catches on fire. The fire helped spur an avalanche of water pollution control activities like the Clean Water Act by bringing national attention to water pollution issues.

Not the blaring type you typically hear on New Year’s Eve, but rather the noises associated with cleaner water – the squeals of young fishermen hauling in a fish from a local creek… the hum of a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant… the crunch of shovels clearing ground for rain gardens and streamside tree buffers… the clang of a cash register ringing up a marine sale… the buzz of a family picnicking along the river.

That’s music to the ears of those of us who remember when we faced health and environmental threats in our waters that are almost unimaginable by our standards today.

Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has kept tens of billions of pounds of raw sewage, chemicals and trash out of our waterways, and we’ve doubled the number of waters that meet safety standards for swimming and fishing.

In my travels around the Mid-Atlantic Region, I’ve seen the impressive work we’ve done with watershed groups and many of our other partners to improve the quality of our waters. The number of folks engaged in cleanup efforts for their local waterway is at an all-time high.  And the results have been overwhelming.

Black Water Falls, West Virginia

Black Water Falls, West Virginia

Migratory fish can now travel the full length of the Delaware River due to major increases in oxygen levels.   A major interstate program is now place for restoring the Chesapeake Bay, including a landmark pollution budgetGreen infrastructure techniques are sprouting up in our major cities and small communities as a cost-effective way to control stormwater pollution and improve community livability.  And economic development along urban waterfronts has burgeoned, like the famous Baltimore Inner Harbor and along the Anacostia River in Washington D.C., driven by commitments to cleaner water.

In every corner of the region, we have initiatives underway to protect our most irreplaceable resource, producing environmental, economic, community and public health benefits.

We’ve come a long way.  But there’s much more to do.  And we need your help to continue the progress and take the next steps.

So what does clean water mean to you?  Let us know.

Author’s Note:  Jon Capacasa is director of the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

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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Water Treatment Ahead of its Time

By: Trey Cody

Fairmount Water Works

Fairmount Water Works, Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service

As in intern in EPA Region III’s Water Protection Division, there are always ample opportunities to learn about environmental protection. One of my most recent adventures was a trip to the Fairmount Water Works Interpretative Center in Philadelphia with other interns in my program.

The original Fairmount Water Works was considered at the time of its opening in 1815 to be a wonder of the world.  After witnessing its magnificent architecture and design, I would argue that it still is today. During the trip we learned about how, with advanced technology for its time, the Water Works facility allowed Philadelphia to be the first municipality in the nation to take on the responsibility of distributing fresh drinking water to the public. This was done with the use of two steam engines which pumped water from the Schuylkill River to a 3-million-gallon reservoir to house it.  In 1822, a 1,600-foot dam was built across the Schuylkill in order to direct water to three water wheels, which had replaced the steam engines.  Another innovation for its time was the use of hydropower–the facility itself was powered by the river.  And I learned that Fairmount Park was created to preserve open space to protect our water supply.

It is clear that the availability for clean drinking water has been a priority for centuries.  I knew that Philadelphia gets its drinking water from both the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, but it was nice to learn about the history behind this.  It gives me pride to know that the Mid-Atlantic Region was home to a facility ahead of its time that is still to this day a model for drinking water facilities across the U.S.

Do you know how your drinking water is treated and which source it comes from?  Do you have a similar story to a visit to a drinking water facility?  Leave us a comment and tell about it!

About the Author: Trey Cody has been an intern with EPA’s Water Protection Division since graduation from high school in 2010. He is currently attending the Pennsylvania State University.

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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Connecting at the Water’s Edge

By Maryann Helferty

Young Red Belly Turtle seen at Lardner's Point

Young Red Belly Turtle seen at Lardner's Point

Late on a warm spring afternoon a few weeks ago, I walked along a newly restored tidal wetland and gazed at the young sedge grasses and arrowhead plants.  The line, “If you build it they will come” from the movie Field of Dreams passed through my mind.  Here at Lardner’s Point Park in Philadelphia, PA, both wildlife and people were reclaiming their spot at the water’s edge.

Earlier that week, the opening ceremony for the park celebrated the creation of 300 feet of shoreline access and four acres of open space.  After the ribbon-cutting, a visitor spotted a small baby turtle climbing up the fresh soil bank.  It was a red-belly turtle, a threatened species in Pennsylvania.  It had emerged from the river to welcome the park supporters, just as the early players from baseball’s past entered the cornfield ballpark of Kevin Costner’s dreams. A local water scientist reported that in ten years of boat surveys, he had not seen a young turtle of this species in this area.

Creation of the park was truly a Cinderella story, as the shoreline had been wrapped in a concrete bulkhead from its days as a ferry terminal, and was later fouled by an oil spill.  Over $500,000 in federal funding was dedicated to the restoration and mitigation project.

The ecological restoration of Lardner’s Point is about more than the re-emergence of a living marine ecosystem for plants and animals.  Along the industrial riverfront, open space is as rare as the threatened turtle. The design of this site features a fishing pier, connection to a bike trail and picnic tables.  Check out our podcast on the Lardner’s Point restoration to learn more.

These amenities bring a breeze of recreation to the dense, row-home neighborhood of Tacony nearby.  That’s why as part of the Urban Waters Movement, EPA is seeking to help communities — especially underserved communities — as they work to access, improve and benefit from their urban waters and the surrounding land.

As I left the pier, I said hello to a 10-year old boy carrying a fishing rod.  He happily reported that this was the first time he could walk with his grandfather and fish on the Delaware.  By reconnecting the river to wetlands and greenspace, the park was also connecting friends and family with great memories along the river.

With summer coming, how are you going to connect at the water’s edge?  May is American Wetlands Month, so take some time to learn how you can protect and restore wetlands near you.

About the Author: Maryann Helferty is a water quality scientist with the Mid-Atlantic Regional office of the EPA.  She has worked on groundwater and watershed protection in both the rural Pacific Northwest and the urban corridors of the Atlantic.  One of her passions is teaching urban youth about water through the poetry curriculum: River of Words.  You will find her this summer walking the water’s edge in the Wissahickon Watershed.

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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Atlantic Sturgeon Enter Endangered Species Protection Program

By Kaitlyn Bendik

Have you ever heard of a fish called the Atlantic Sturgeon? I hadn’t until recently. When I sought out to learn about the different endangered species in the District of Columbia, I learned that this fish can grow to an enormous 14 feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds, but it is also endangered. Who knew such aquatic behemoths lived in rivers and estuaries in the Mid Atlantic Region?

I also learned that the Atlantic sturgeon is an anadromous fish species that can live up to 60 years.  It dwarfs the other two sturgeon species found in eastern North America, and is a benthic or bottom feeder.

Have you ever heard of a fish called the Atlantic Sturgeon?  I hadn’t until recently.  When I googled it, I learned that it can grow to an enormous 18 feet long and weigh over 800 pounds, but is also endangered.  Who knew such aquatic behemoths lived in rivers and estuaries in the Mid Atlantic Region!
The Atlantic sturgeon is an anadromous fish species that can live up to 60 years, and dwarfs the other two sturgeon species found in eastern North America.  They are also benthic or bottom feeders.

Recently, the Atlantic Sturgeon was added to the Endangered Species List in the Chesapeake Bay and four other “distinct population segments.”

So how does a species get listed?  A concerned citizen like you may petition the United States Secretary of the Interior to add a species, which begins a process of deciding whether there’s enough information to prove that a species needs listing.  Likewise, an organization such as the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service engages in a candidate species process, where a scientific study is conducted to gather data.  When the study concludes a species needs listing, it publishes its findings in the Federal Register for public comment.  Once that process is complete, the species can get its spot on list.

Why is the Atlantic sturgeon on the list?  Historically, this fish was a part of commercial fisheries in the US.  But due to dwindling numbers, in 1998, a harvest moratorium was put on the Atlantic sturgeon.  Despite that action, sturgeon populations are still threatened today.  They get caught inadvertently by fishermen, and in estuaries and rivers, they face habitat degradation and loss due to human activities like dredging, dams, water withdrawals, and development, as well as being hit by ships.

The Atlantic sturgeon species numbers in the Chesapeake Bay have dropped substantially, from about 20,000 breeding females in 1890 throughout the Bay and its tributaries, to less than 300 breeding females that are found in only the James River.  But a comeback is hopefully soon to come with the actions taken to build back its population.

Keeping our water clean will help keep the Atlantic sturgeon around forever. Visit the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Delaware River Basin Commission website for tips on what you can do to help protect the bays and the endangered species that call them home.

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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Boast Your Coast!

Displays and Booths at Walnut PlazaJust because you don’t live anywhere close to beachfront property doesn’t mean you’re not a coastal resident! In fact, if you live near and/or between Philadelphia and the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, then most likely your everyday actions have a huge impact on the closest coastal region. Why? Because you are directly connected to the Delaware Estuary, which stretches from Trenton, New Jersey, south to Cape May, New Jersey and Cape Henlopen, Delaware.  Estuaries are areas partially surrounded by land where rivers meet the sea. The Delaware Estuary ecosystem is fed by the Delaware River and its tributaries which includes all of the Delaware Bay. Inhabitants of the area rely on the estuary for drinking water, industry and recreational activities. As do all estuaries, it posseses many habitats suitable for vast amounts of plants and animals and is the birthplace of many different kinds of wildlife.

There are millions of people who live in the Delaware River Basin which includes parts of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The activities of those millions have an effect on the quality of water in the estuary. For this reason, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Inc. held the 2010 Pennsylvania Coast Day on September 13th. This day of family fun boasted ferries, schooners, and other kinds of sea transportation. For those who were prone to sea-sickness, there were over 20 booths and displays at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, educating child and adult alike.

You can bet that representatives from EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division were there to do just that. With many fun-filled activities, including a Water Wheel of Questions, Region 3 employees shared the importance of water conservation and keeping our streams clean. Responses from one question on the water wheel really surprised us. “How long is your normal shower?” While it is recommended that you try to keep it to 10 minutes or less, many participants said they take 15 to 30 minute showers! That got us to wonder how many other people take an extended time in the shower. How long do you take? Let us know or tell us how you make an effort to conserve water around your home. And if you were at the event and visited our display, do you have any suggestions for activities or issues we could incorporate at EPA’s booth for Coast Day 2011?

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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