Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

How healthy is the Delaware River watershed?

StateImpact Pennsylvania Reporters Katie Colaneri and Marie Cusick, left, lead a panel discussion on the health of the Delaware River watershed at WHYY in Philadelphia.

Harris Sokoloff for StateImpact Pennsylvania

StateImpact Pennsylvania Reporters Katie Colaneri and Marie Cusick, left, lead a panel discussion on the health of the Delaware River watershed at WHYY in Philadelphia.

Thanks to all who participated in person and online in our Delaware River watershed event last night at WHYY in Philadelphia. In case you missed it, here are some of the highlights, including a Delaware watershed fact sheet and glossary of terms we handed out to our live audience. (You can check out that document below.)

So how healthy IS the Delaware River watershed?

Our panelists were asked to share some of the indicators they use to assess the watershed’s health and vitality. We also asked them to tell us how the watershed is doing by giving it a letter grade from A to F. Here’s what they said:

  • Steve Mullin, Philadelphia’s former Finance Director who currently runs his own economic policy consulting firm, gave the watershed a B when he weighs both the economic and environmental costs and benefits of working and living near the water. He thinks development is moving in the right direction.
  • Patty Elkis, Director of Policy and Planning for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, looks at the health of the watershed in two ways: conservation and development. She gave it an A for preservation, noting that of the 2.4 million acres that make up the nine-county region spanning Pennsylvania and New Jersey, 550,000 acres have been preserved. Elkis gave the region a B for development efforts which ramped up during the 1990s and began dropping off after the the recession in 2008. About one million acres have been developed so far.
  • Audience members participated in small group sessions to come up with their own questions about what drives the health of the Delaware River watershed.

    Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

    Audience members participated in small group sessions to come up with their own questions about what drives the health of the Delaware River watershed.

    Peter Wulfhorst, economic development educator with the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Pike County, reflected on the changing agricultural sector in the watershed. As many acres of farmland have given way to suburban development, water quality concerns have shifted from agricultural runoff to stormwater runoff which can be harder to control. Ultimately, his grade for the watershed was a C+.

  • Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, said she couldn’t give the watershed a single letter grade because water quality tends to change as the river flows downstream. At the headwaters in Northeast Pennsylvania, van Rossum said the water quality is very high because there isn’t as much development. Water quality begins to decline in the lower watershed around Philadelphia.

What letter grade would you give the Delaware River watershed? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Panelist Patty Elkis, standing, listens to audience members talk about what they think is affecting the health of the Delaware River watershed.

Linda Breitstein for StateImpact Pennsylvania

Panelist Patty Elkis, standing, listens to audience members talk about what they think is affecting the health of the Delaware River watershed.

What comes next?

My reporting partner, Marie Cusick and I have collected the great questions asked by our in-studio and online audiences. We’ll be using them to inform our reporting on the watershed going forward. You can look for the answers to these and more questions on StateImpact Pennsylvania in the coming weeks and months.

Save the date!

Stay tuned for our next event in January at witf in Harrisburg when we’ll assemble another great panel to discuss the health of the Susquehanna River.

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