Environmental Advocacy

By Guest Blogger: Martha Corrozi Narvaez

Associate Policy Scientist, Water Resources Agency, Institute for Public Administration, University of Delaware

On an unseasonably warm Sunday in February I walked hand-in-hand with my 4-year old son along Wilmington’s riverwalk that parallels the magnificent Christina River. As we walked we passed by couples, families, runners, and people of all types with the musings of ice skaters in the background. My son and I talked about the ducks swimming by, the swift current carrying sticks and other debris and the “mean people” that littered their bottles and trash in the river. I couldn’t help but think that just a few years ago I would not have been able to share this experience with him. I am fortunate to share such an experience with him and I also feel fortunate that I understand the complexity and state of this river.

Christina River on a warm winter day.

Christina River on a warm winter day.

It is easy to see that the Christina River has undergone an urban renaissance resulting in the Chase Center, Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, Christina Riverwalk, a variety of restaurants, high-rise residential buildings, the Blue Rocks stadium, and the DuPont Environmental Education Center’s wildlife refuge. This growth is spurred by people’s desire to be near the water and the aesthetic qualities it provides, yet beyond this beauty there is a complex, natural system at work.

The headwaters of the Christina River lie within the state of Maryland and enter Delaware west of Newark. The White Clay, Red Clay, and Brandywine creeks are tributaries of the Christina River. The Christina River is freshwater yet tidal from just south of the town of Christiana to its confluence with the Delaware River at Wilmington. Extensive tidal freshwater wetlands, including Churchmans Marsh, exist along the lower Christina. The majority of the Christina River watershed is located in New Castle County (DE). The Christina River is a mostly urbanized watershed with over 50% of the land cover developed. The watershed is the site of the Port of Wilmington, an important shipping link, and one of the largest importers of orange juice, Chilean grapes, bananas, and automobiles nationally.

Wilmington's Christina Riverfront

Wilmington’s Christina Riverfront

The Christina River has its share of historic contamination. There are numerous contaminated sites bordering the river. Samples have indicated that there are toxics present at elevated levels in the water bodies of the Christina River watershed and fish consumption advisories have been posted for the river. According to the USEPA’s water quality standards the Delaware portion of the Christina River requires varying levels of pollution reduction for nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria.

Although the Christina River has fallen victim to years of industry, improper land use and anthropogenic influences the story of the river is a positive one. The state is working diligently to clean up and redevelop the toxic sites along the river. The Christina River is also demonstrating improving trends for many water quality parameters. According to a recent article on water quality trends in Delaware’s streams by Gerald Kauffman and Andrew Belden, water quality trend analysis for long term (1970/1980-2005) and short-term (1990-2005) trends show improvement in the Christina River for numerous water quality parameters including: dissolved oxygen (DO), total suspended sediment (TSS), total phosphorus (TP), and total Kjedahl nitrogen (TKN). Positive trends for these parameters indicate improving conditions in the river. Additional parameters, including bacteria, which levels have historically been increasing, show a leveling off for long-term and short-terms trends over this same time period, another good news story.

We know that the Christina River is not a pristine, natural river system yet research shows that there are positive signs for the health of the water body. The efforts by so many locally, state-wide and regionally to improve the water quality has had a positive impact. And as the riverfront becomes more popular and a destination in the region, it is my hope that individuals will learn more about the river and help protect this valuable resource through individual stewardship. And over the years as I continue to walk along the riverfront I will feel fortunate to be able to share this river, which inspires and motivates me, with so many people, especially my son.

Join us at DEEC on April 16 at 3:30pm for National Water Dance to celebrate the Christina River through dance performances and exploration of the marsh for the wildlife calling it home.

To find out more about efforts to improve and protect our waters or how you can have impact, check out the Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice campaign website, Facebook, or Twitter!

By Greg Gagliano, Backyard Habitat Coordinator:

My name is Greg Gagliano, and I am the Certified Wildlife Habitat Coordinator for the Delaware Nature Society.  One of the main aspects of my job is to help homeowners, schools, and communities to create environmentally-friendly landscapes that support wildlife habitat.  The impacts of these efforts can be quite impressive and include an increase in biodiversity on individual properties, cleaner water runoff entering local streams, and a better connection between people and nature.  The Certified Wildlife Habitat Program is an opportunity for anyone to make a positive impact on the environment right in their own backyard.  Take a look at this video about the Certified Wildlife Habitat Program and let me know if you would like to have your property certified.  You can reach me at (302) 239-2334 ext 142 or greg@delawarenaturesociety.org.  This video was produced by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

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By Brenna Goggin, Environmental Advocate

If you have never wondered about the process your drinking water goes through before it gets to your faucet, you are not alone. The Delaware Nature Society’s Wilmington Drinking Water Tour, led by Sally O’Byrne this week, provided the opportunity to discover where, when, and how your drinking water ends up in your glass. The City of Wilmington has used the Brandywine River as its primary drinking water source since 1827. Wilmington officials and Water Department employees quickly learned that water (treated and untreated) would have to be stored at various locations through the City. These locations include Cool Springs Reservoir, Rockford Tower, and Hoopes Reservoir.  Hold on to your mugs as we take you on a water drop’s journey from the Brandywine River to your teacup.

The Brandywine River is a major source of drinking water for Wilmington, Delaware.

As a drop of water, my journey began one day, when I was peacefully meandering down the Brandywine River. Suddenly, I was pulled from my path into a mill race that took me to the Brandywine Pumping Station, which is located in downtown Wilmington and is filled with three generations of pumping mechanisms. If I had traveled from the river in the early 1900’s, my transportation would have been provided by a 5-story, 1906 Holly Steam Engine (taken offline in 1968).  The modern pump I went through, however, was hardly larger than a fire hydrant.

Hoopes Reservoir is a raw water storage location for Wilmington drinking water.

From the pumping station, I traveled directly to Hoopes Reservoir where I waited to be treated.  I stayed there for several pleasant weeks.  When my time was called, and the people of Wilmington needed me, I was pumped yet again from Hoopes Reservoir to the Porter Filtration Plant, located near the Alapocas State Park in Wilmington.  Here, I went through several steps to ensure I was safe for drinking.

This raw water holding tank is where drinking water waits to be treated.

I waited patiently in the 36-million-gallon holding tank surrounded by the rest of the untreated, aka “raw” drops of water.  All of a sudden, I was pulled from my holding tank and travelled through a beautiful brick gatehouse and into green pipes where I began the “treatment” process. Ferric Chloride was used as a coagulant to help any dirt I traveled with to clump together.  I then enjoyed a ride in one of the six clariflocculators as I separated from the surrounding clumps of dirt.  I also received a complimentary treatment of lime to help bolster my ph and alkalinity levels.  The rocky part of the journey was when I traveled from the clariflocculators through a 12-step filtration and purification system full of stones, sand, and concrete. The end result ensured that I was polished and chemical free before heading through yet more pipes. Finally, I received a complimentary injection of chlorine and fluoride before heading to the “treated” holding tanks.  The tank I was sent to was Rockford Tower which provided the perfect view of Wilmington before gravity forced me into a nearby home where I quickly got boiled and poured into a cup of tea.  It was a very productive trip if I do say so myself! 

Rockford Tower is a location where treated, finished drinking water is stored. Gravity takes it to your faucet from there.

The Delaware Nature Society offers this trip and others with Sally O’Byrne, that educate our members about utilities, water, waste, and other necessary human industries every season.  This summer, the Conservation Action Force camp for 11-15 year olds will examine this water system as well as and other issues like air, water quality, large-scale composting, agriculture, biodiversity, and will tour Delaware’s Legislative Hall to report our findings.  If you know an 11-15 year old that might be interested, please register them for the camp at www.delawarenaturesociety.org.

Finally, my journey ended in a enjoyable and relaxing cup of tea.

By Brenna Goggin: Environmental Advocate

Monday, August 8th started out like every other day. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and summer campers were arriving to tackle all of the state’s environmental issues, or at least try. The first day campers learned how the legislative process works, listened to School House Rock (“I’m just a bill…), and debated their first piece of legislation.

Day two started out with a long drive down to Lewes to learn about wind energy and tour the University of Delaware’s 2-megawatt wind turbine. Did you know that this wind turbine produces enough power to meet all of UD’s Lewes campus energy needs and powers about 120 homes in the area?  Since some of our campers received letters from their constituents (they were elected officials after all!), they had several questions regarding the dangers wind turbines pose  to birds and bats, the cleanliness of wind energy, and how it compares to other energy sources like fossil fuels. Graduate student Blaise Sheridan walked the campers right up to the turbine to explain how the energy travels from the turbine to the power station. Blaise and Chris Petrone also took us through a kite exercise to show how the wind currents are stronger and therefore can produce more energy the higher up they are.

Conservation Action Force campers walk towards the University of Delaware Wind Turbine near Lewes.

Day three and four were spent learning about climate change, the food cycle, and sustainable agricultural products. The campers went through several hands-on activities to learn about the greenhouse effect, the importance of even small creatures in the circle of life, and how to build your own sustainable, eco-friendly farm. Ideas ranged from raising yaks to dinosaurs, but the main task of the day was to control the waste, runoff, and other environmental side effects of farming in a safe and economical way.

Finally, we traveled to the Delaware state capitol to bring our issues to the attention of people with power! Campers toured Legislative Hall, met with Senator Bushweller to discuss some of their environmental concerns, and learned the history of the first state. In the afternoon, the camp made a presentation to Deputy DNREC Secretary Dave Small where their issues and concerns were voiced. 

The grand finale of the camp was to take action for the environment and speak to legislators at the Delaware State Capital.

In the end, the Conservation Action Force campers learned current environmental issues through hands-on activities, and gained experience with effectively voicing their concerns.  In this way, environmental education comes full circle.

If you have a conservationist in the making at home, consider this camp in 2012!