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Group 2 Delaware River Watershed Initiative



The Brandywine-Christina Cluster encompasses 565 square miles in parts of Delaware and Pennsylvania.

It extends from the rolling piedmont in Pennsylvania to the flat coastal plain in Delaware, including the Brandywine, Red Clay and White Clay Creeks, and the Christina River. This pastoral landscape is known for its well-preserved early-American villages and historic Revolutionary War sites. It has inspired both world-renowned artists, including three generations of the Wyeth family that have become synonymous with the Brandywine Creek, and one of the oldest (and most effective) conservation movements in the nation.

However, the Brandywine-Christiana Cluster is on the edge of the Philadelphia and Wilmington metropolitan areas and has experienced intense development pressure over the past thirty years. Chester County, for example, is among the fastest growing counties in Pennsylvania. Communities in this cluster struggle to balance concern for water quality with the needs of an agricultural economy and the impacts of sprawling development.

Drinking Water Source 500,000 People
Total Area 565 Sq. Mi.
Protected Land 30% Protected

Major Threats

Agricultural Land Use
Lack of riparian buffers and best management practices (BMPs), including stream bank fencing and plans for manure and nutrient management, have raised water temperatures and caused stream bank erosion, sedimentation and nutrient loading.


Land Conversion
Development of farmland has increased impervious area, disturbed slopes, removed native vegetation and intensified stormwater run-off.

Why it’s Important

Streams and rivers in the Brandywine-Christina Cluster provide 100 million gallons of drinking water to more than 500,000 people each day. Some of these waterways are high-quality, cold-water trout streams (including the only trout streams in the state of Delaware). Pennsylvania ranks many of these waterways as High-Quality and Exceptional-Value streams.

The natural resources of the cluster also substantially contribute to the region’s economy. They generate $1.5 billion in benefits to water quality, water supply, fish and wildlife, recreation, agriculture, forests and public parks, and they directly or indirectly support more than 100,000 jobs.

Agriculture and development stress the water quality in the cluster. On farms, the lack of forested streamside buffers and other best management practices have raised water temperatures and caused erosion, sedimentation and nutrient loading. The area has also experienced intense development pressure over the past 30 years. During its peak, development was impacting 5,000 acres per year. Although the pace has slowed, residential and commercial development continues to consume land and resources.

As a result of these stressors, 400 miles of streams in and around Newark, Newport and Wilmington, Delaware, as well as throughout Chester County’s rapidly developing agricultural areas are now officially “Impaired.” Yet, despite intense development, this area continues to offer important habitat for bald eagles, brook trout and other wildlife, as well as outdoor recreation for thousands of people.

What We Can Do

The plan for the Brandywine-Christina Cluster targets seven stream corridors (Sharitz Run, Red Clay Creek/Upper East Branch, White Clay Creek/West Fork of the East Branch, Marsh Creek, Plum Run, Little Buck Run and Brandywine Creek/Upper West Branch) in Chester County. The on-the-ground work focuses on projects in Pennsylvania that will improve water quality locally as well as for drinking water providers downstream in Delaware. The plan includes a combination of outreach, restoration and protection projects, innovative land use regulations and a pilot study to assess a new conservation funding approach. Specifically, projects will:

  • Educate local municipalities about and help them apply a model riparian-buffer zoning ordinance to complement the Chester County Act 167 stormwater management ordinance, with a goal of protecting and restoring water quality in developing municipalities throughout Chester County.
  • Increase use of best management practices (BMPs) that reduce sediment/nutrient loadings and increase infiltration such as streamside fencing, stream crossings for livestock and riparian buffers, in order to lessen the impacts on drinking water providers downstream (Wilmington, DE) and recreational users (fishing, boating and swimming.)
  • Improve water quality degraded by agricultural run-off through restoration practices so that Sharitz Run, Upper East Branch of Red Clay Creek, West Fork of White Clay Creek, Little Buck Run and Plum Run can be removed from Pennsylvania’s “Impaired List.”
  • Analyze innovative market-based funding tools to create new revenue sources for protection and restoration projects that have a direct impact on water quality and will enable water authorities to avoid expensive water treatment infrastructure costs to achieve water-quality improvements.
  • Protect farmland in the Upper West Branch of Brandywine Creek, through the acquisition of easements that will prevent development and require landowners to employ BMPs.

Monitoring and Measurement

Initiative organizations will monitor and assess all elements of this plan through scientific data collection as well as tracking to determine if municipalities that adopt the riparian buffer ordinance are enforcing it and whether additional land is conserved. The water-quality data collection will include water temperature, conductivity and depth; base flow, turbidity, bacteria and chemistry (including nutrients); macro-invertebrates; sedimentation; and trout populations. This data will be collected by professionals, students and volunteers. Data previously compiled by academic institutions will serve as baseline measurements of key indicators. The Stroud Water Research Center and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University will coordinate water quality sampling to ensure that participants capture the impact of strengthened regulations in Chester County.


Timeline and Investment

As of January 2014, estimated costs to protect critical landscapes, build constituencies and monitor impacts comes to almost $15 million over the next three years: $6 million for restoration of streams, $5 million for permanent land protection, and close to $4 million for monitoring, outreach and innovation. Work began in 2014 with $1.2 million in grants from the William Penn Foundation with additional support available through competitive re-grant funds for land protection and restoration.