On the heels of the Trump administration’s proposal to restrict the number of wetlands and streams covered by the Clean Water Act, WHYY produced a special “Reviving the River” series that looks at how federal protections and funding helped transform the Delaware River from “from a stinky ugly mess to a year-round attraction.”
The series takes us back to the 1950’s and 60’s, when raw sewage was dumped, untreated, into the river. The combination of human waste and blood from slaughterhouses, oil from refineries, and toxic chemicals wiped out all life in a stretch of the river from Philadelphia down to Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania.
The Clean Water Act, passed with bipartisan support in 1972, was a gamechanger. The law made it illegal to dump pollution into waterways without a permit, and set standards for industrial wastewater. It also gave cities and states millions of dollars to upgrade their sewage treatment plants.
Strong laws and caring landowners have helped return the Delaware to health. There are 70 species of fish in the Delaware estuary near Pennsylvania, says Carol Collier of the Academy of Natural Sciences in the series’ third installment, “The Delaware River’s Invisible Threats.”
But, while the Clean Water Act curbed the flow of industrial waste, invisible pollution continues to wash off our roads, rooftops, and fields. The work we do under the Delaware River Watershed Initiative is designed to stem this flow. Rain gardens, streamside forests, and river-friendly farming practices filter out trash, road salt, chemicals and pesticides before they contaminate our rivers and drinking water.
For more about the power of the Clean Water Act, and the risks the proposed rollbacks pose to the Delaware Basin, read this Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed by Willian Penn Foundation’s Andrew Johnson, Academy of Natural Sciences’s Carol Collier, and Open Space Institute’s Peter Howell.
You can read or listen to the full Reviving the River series on WHYY here.