Taking Action in the Wissahickon Watershed

The Wissahickon Creek is truly a watershed in crisis!

As a result, The Friends of the Wissahickon and the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association hosted “A Creek in Crisis” last Wednesday at Germantown Academy. Attracting more than 200 concerned residents, the forum discussed water quality problems and provided constructive suggestions for taking action.

Patrick Starr photo new 2
Patrick Starr

It was an honor to emcee this terrific program and to see more than hundreds of concerned residents listen, learn, and ask great questions. Joining me on stage were a group of five panelists. The group included Mike Helbing (Citizens for PA Future), Chris Crockett (Philadelphia Water Department), Jeff Featherstone (Temple University, Center for Sustainable Communities), Stephanie Frigary (Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association), and Sarah Marley (Friends of the Wissahickon).

With real data from extensive monitoring, the panelists described how this heavily developed suburban watershed has been impaired for decades. Due to lots of pavement, rooftops, and other development, it suffers from ravaging floods, excessive nutrients from fertilizers and wildlife, as well as a lack of baseflow recharge. At times, nearly the entire flow of the Wissahickon is comprised of effluent discharged by treatment plants.

Citizens can take action in numerous ways. Reduced fertilization, careful clean up after pets, and disconnecting downspouts in order to safely spread and infiltrate stormwater can help. Homeowners can create rain gardens, reduce mowed turf to a minimum by planting meadows and trees, and replanting forested buffers along streambanks. Additionally, part of a Homeowners Association can retrofit stormwater basins to clean and infiltrate smaller rain events instead of rapidly flushing that precious resource down the stream.

Citizens and officials in all 16 Wissahickon municipalities can also create effective stormwater management programs to educate their neighbors, change municipal “housekeeping,” and to implement all manner of “green” stormwater infrastructure. This is a part of the MS4 permit that each municipality is responsible for.

The Wissahickon is also faced with an exciting option referred to as an alternate TMDL plan. This is complicated, but would result in a comprehensive and collaborative solution to establishing a clear game plan for restoring the Wissahickon watershed. Every citizen should be involved and supportive and make it clear to municipal leaders that it is time to address the Wissahickon’s crisis now, and with real money spent to solve the problem.

PEC has been working in the Wissahickon for a decade. Now is the time to push on to the “grand bargain” to solve this watershed’s problems and to be a model for Pennsylvania and the nation. Kudos to all!