Schuylkill River Watershed Water Quality Improving, but More Progress is Needed, Report Says

June 9, 2003
Coalition of 26 Area Non-Profits Team Up, Issue First Report on State of Region's Watershed

A coalition of 26 non-profit environmental organizations has released an assessment of the Schuylkill River watershed in Pennsylvania that catalogues great progress in efforts to clean up and protect the region's water supply, but warns that greater attention must be paid to preserving the limited natural resource.

A Report on the State of the Schuylkill River Watershed, a 41-page report that represents three years of collaboration and studies, says a number of non-profit groups and agencies have made great strides in improving and protecting the region's water quality and environment but that more must be done. The report calls for the establishment of a watershed-wide consortium to strengthen communication among nonprofits and government, better monitoring of water quality, the creation of economic and environmental opportunity zones at key points along the Schuylkill River and better land use planning by municipalities.

The report represents the first time in the watershed's history that so many non-profits came together to assess and promote the health of the region's water supply.

"The work these 26 diverse groups have done is exemplary," said Lawrence Selzer, president of The Conservation Fund, which organized the coalition and prepared the report. "What this coalition has achieved in southeastern Pennsylvania should serve as a model to the rest of the nation. One of the biggest obstacles to environmental conservation is lack of communication and planning among non-profits. This report helps provide cohesion and will drive continued improvement in the watershed.

"The 26 groups that collaborated on this project have demonstrated that where there is a commitment and a mechanism to share information and resources, the efforts of a single non-profit can be multiplied."

The report identified three broad, interrelated factors that are undermining the health of the watershed: unplanned land development, water quality and the lack of an integrated plan for overall water management.

The report highlighted numerous positive initiatives that have been undertaken by 26-area non-profit organizations committed to promoting the health of the watershed. It noted that groups are working to conserve valuable habitat and open space, improve water quality, increase recreational opportunities and educate citizens.

The news contained in the report was not all good. The report identified five of 19 sites that received a D grade because water quality is seriously degraded as shown by biological testing. One of those sites, located north of the City of Philadelphia, is on the Wissahickon Creek, which runs through Philadelphia and its suburbs. Another is on the Tulpehocken Creek north of Reading.

The report identified four factors that threaten the region's drinking water.

• Poor agricultural practices that contribute to soil erosion and runoff of chemicals and bacteria into the ecosystem.

• Impervious surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt, that prevent natural drainage and replenishment while polluting surface water.

• Inadequately treated effluent from older sewage plants as well as illegal, untreated sewage from other sources.

• Acidic drainage from abandoned mines, which have already contaminated approximately 103 miles of streams in the upper watershed.

"This should serve as a wake-up call for all citizens of southeastern Pennsylvania," said Elizabeth Kitchel, director of the Schuylkill River Watershed Initiative and project leader for the report. "Much good has been accomplished in protecting the watershed. But more must be done. Otherwise, drinking water and vital open space will be threatened if the region doesn't begin to turn its attention to protecting one of its most crucial environmental assets."

The 26 environmental non-profits that participated in the study are

• Berks County Conservancy, Reading

• The Conservation Fund, Philadelphia and Harrisburg Offices

• Delaware Riverkeeper Network, St. Peters Office

• Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, Shavertown Headquarters

• French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, Pottstown

• Green Valleys Association, Pottstown

• Lower Merion Conservancy, Gladwyne

• Manayunk Development Corp., Philadelphia

• Montgomery County Lands Trust, Lederach

• Natural Lands Trust, Media

• The Nature Conservancy, Conshohocken

• Patrick Center for Environmental Research, Philadelphia

• Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Philadelphia Office

• Peopling of Philadelphia Collaborative, Delanco, NJ

• Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy, Schwenksville

• Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corp., Phoenixville

• Phoenixville Iron Canal and Trails Association, Phoenixville

• Preservation Pottstown, Pottstown

• Schuylkill Canal Association, Mont Clare

• Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Philadelphia

• Schuylkill Headwaters, Cressona

• Schuylkill River Development Corporation, Philadelphia

• Schuylkill River Greenway Association, Pottstown

• Stroud Water Research Center, Avondale

• Wildlands Conservancy, Emmaus

• Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association, Ambler

Source: Schuylkill River Watershed Initiative