The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed hosted a webinar on Monday, October 5 to share information on a project seeking to promote fair and equitable opportunities to “get more people, more often, in more places” swimming, paddling and enjoying the 27 mile stretch of the Delaware River flowing past Philadelphia, Camden and Chester.
The Water Center, University of Pennsylvania, and the American Littoral Society, with the support of the William Penn Foundation, are creating a “road map” of possible improvements and a process to advise policy makers on preferred paths for relatively short-term action that would result in better water quality in targeted areas of the Delaware River in order to support swimming, wading, and paddling.
Thankfully, the section of the river adjacent to these cities has already seen improvement due to the combination of federal, state and local regulations, in concert with action by public utilities and community groups to reduce pollution. However, many believe that additional steps can be taken in the near future to improve water quality with the associated societal and economic benefits.
While it is important to support safe and healthy activities on all sections of the river, this is especially important in this region which includes economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and areas with newly developed opportunities for recreational enjoyment and economic growth.
In sum, the goal of the Returning to the River project is to develop a strategy for reducing bacteria-related pollution, while working with people representing all aspects of its use, in order to increase opportunities for swimming and paddling in the Philadelphia/Camden/Chester areas of the Delaware River.
The following section is the Q&A from the Oct, 5 webinar.
Question & Answer Session Summary
Responses to Questions
Response*: Recreation access points at public parks, private clubs, docks, marinas, piers, etc. were gathered using a variety of sources including blogs, google earth, and other publicly available data to compile a recreation access point list. Phone calls and emails were also sent to key organizations and companies. Used data sources from Delaware River Basin Commission, NJ Department of Environmental Protection, PA Fish and Boat Commission and other existing sources. There will be a webinar for recreation stakeholders.
The ability to do site counts is outside of the scope of this project but may be included in the report as a future data need.
Response*: That specific research is beyond our scope, but we recognize it is widely understood that the owner/rental mix in cities such as Philadelphia, Camden, and Chester significantly complicates efforts to administer affordability programs that benefit the widest possible population. EJ considerations are very important and renters are not always remembered because they may not pay the water bill or sewer bill directly but are still impacted. Equity and ratepayer considerations will be discussed in the Road Mapreport i Conversations regarding affordability. Affordability, cost equity and rate payer inequities are important. One goal of this project looks is to find and recommend water quality improvements that are affordable and do not unduly burden ratepayers, and seek equity and balance between water quality improvements, recreational access, and rates.
How will you balance residents'/stakeholders’ interests in the mainstem versus their interest in tributaries where they may have easier access and more current use? In other words, this work doesn't happen in a water quality vacuum and what if stakeholders are more interested in cleaning up tributaries because they are easier to access and have more current use? Will you include stakeholders that represent those interests as well - not just mainstem users?
Response*: Unfortunately, a detailed quantitative assessment of the tributaries is outside the scope of our current funding. At present, we are limiting our technical efforts to assessing the impact of each tributary as a point source impacting the main stem of the Delaware. This is not to minimize the profound, often proportionally greater impacts of CSO’s on the tribs, and the important public health and equity issues associated with water quality in the tribs. Access to, and contact with, the tributaries is typically far simpler for the populations of these cities, particularly in EJ communities. We understand and take absolutely no issue with the prioritization of these impacts by many of the utilities and stakeholders in the region. The Roadmap will not ignore these issues.
Note we are also focused on ways to incorporate the Tidal Schuylkill into our efforts. This is a challenge as there is significantly less historical data to work with. We hasten to point out that one of the purposes of this study is to hone in on and call attention to critical gaps in our understanding of these impacts.
The Team encourages the input and support of all stakeholders including those who focus primarily on the tributaries. The study team appreciates the input from tributary stakeholders and their experiences in this realm including adding recreation access points, bolstering public support, analyzing data, etc.
Response*: Absolutely! In the near term, due to time constraints and in order to ensure the highest possible level of data quality, it is unlikely we will be in position to rely on such data. William Penn Foundation (WPF) has other studies/funding that focus on some of these questions. Citizen monitoring needs to be carefully framed so that testing results are defensible and have quality control
DRBC's near shore results from 2019 are publicly available at https://www.state.nj.us/drbc/library/documents/WQAC/043020/yagecic_RecUse_DelawareEstuary.pdf. DRBC repeated this work in 2020 and that data is coming in now.
We recognize a significant role for citizen science in this effort over the long term could be additive on many levels, and we intend to incorporate that possibility in the options outlined in the Roadmap
Response*: Yes. While we are focused on water quality, our efforts will detail a number of other factors influencing recreational use including transportation, access, affordability, physical barriers & hazards.
Response: Yes. The maritime industry is an important piece of this project. Following up on her contact with DRBC, The RRAT Team has spoken with Lisa Himber from the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay. We appreciate her providing a contact with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Additional engagement will follow.
Are there any thoughts/plans to engage local communities, especially youth of color, in water testing education through opportunities for experiential learning and training? I see an opportunity to foster trust with the next generation of champions for the watershed by reconnecting them to the water and teaching them new skills, how to keep it clean, and to be advocates.
Response* and**: This is a conversation that has started through discussion with RiverWays Collaboration. Members of WCP and RRAT look forward to continuing and expanding past experiences with groups including Camden’s and PWD’s PowerCorp and local AmeriCorps groups.
Groups Expressing Interest in Engaging with Project
Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
Center for Aquatic Sciences
Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
Delaware River Basin Commission
Pennsylvania Environmental Council
National Parks Conservation Association
 WCP – Water Center at Penn- lead for study*
RRAT – Returning to the River Advisory Team – lead for stakeholder engagement**
 RoadMap refers to the Report under development by WCP; Milestone “Tasks” will be released for comment, with draft Report expected in July 2021;