Some came dressed in silly costumes or carrying outlandish floatation devices. Many attended for the fun and the refreshment of floating in the Delaware River or the party that came after.
But FLOATOPIA - which took place on Saturday, August 27 at Pyne Point Park in Camden, NJ - had a serious purpose: Raising awareness of how far the Delaware River has come and what more must be done to make it a swimmable, accessible, fishable and equitable (SAFE) waterway for everyone who lives along it.
Hosted by Upstream Alliance and the American Littoral Society, the event brought nearly 200 people to paddle in the river and party in the park, including Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen, Camden Councilwoman Felisha Reyes-Morton, and Philadelphia Councilman Mark Squilla.
The 330-mile waterway is touted as “America’s Founding River,” and hosts some of the best places to swim and fish in the country. Yet the 27-mile stretch from Philadelphia, PA to Wilmington, DE, the most populous and diverse stretch of the river, is the only portion that doesn’t meet the criteria for full recreational use.
At the moment, most of the Delaware River is considered fit for “primary contact” recreation, meaning full water immersion that happens during activities like swimming. However, the part that flows past Philly, Camden, and Chester is considered only safe for activities that don't involve immersion or ingestion of water. That's because the old stormwater and sewage systems in Philadelphia and Camden get overwhelmed during heavy rain events, causing bacteria-laden sewage to flow into the river.
Still, the Delaware River is much cleaner now than it has been in many years thanks to the Clean Water Act of 1972.
“The Delaware, I think people a lot of times forget, is really a national poster child of a river that’s been restored and cleaned up,” said Don Baugh, the president and founder of Upstream Alliance. “However, the job is not done, because we can’t safely swim and recreate everywhere in the river 365 days a year, like the Clean Water Act called for.”
The route to a year-round, end-to-end clean river involves not only improvements to stormwater and sewage systems, but also projects that would make the river more accessible for recreational use, especially for the people who live along it in the urban corridor that runs from Northeast Philly to Wilmington, DE.
“Many of the people who live in this area know first-hand how serious an impact sewer overflows can have on the community. They’ve seen the roads flood, know kids who have had to walk through sewage, or maybe have just been told that they can’t go in the river because it’s too dirty,” said Lucia Ruggiero, Delaware Bayshore Program Director for the American Littoral Society, who spoke at Saturday’s event. “It doesn’t have to be like that. There is federal funding available right now that can be used to invest in our communities and fix problems like this.”
FLOATOPIA's organizers believe the money Congress is making available to cities through legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act could go a long way toward addressing long-standing environmental justice issues, such as:
Special thanks to our other partners for this event: the Center for Aquatic Sciences, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, UrbanPromise, PennEnvironment, American Rivers, and The Nature Conservancy.