Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Midway through the "hidden river"

I cannot believe we are approaching the halfway point! Day 5 of the sojourn is here! Did you know that Schuylkill is PA Dutch for Hidden River?

Most areas we are paddling past have been converted from forest, meadow, and wetlands to agriculture, and urban and suburban developments. 

 In the past, "point source pollution" from industry was the biggest concern. Many Sojourners have been telling me stories of what the river was like when the textile factories were still open, and how dye factories turned the river crazy colors. 


But today, as the amount of land being developed increases, "non point source pollution" is the biggest challenge for much of the watershed. Non point source pollution doesn't have one identifying place to target, such as a factory.


There are many sites of the pollution, as trash, contaminants, and sediments run off of any building roofs, pavement, agricultural fields, construction sites, etc. When rainwater runs into a meadow, forest, or wetland, these ecosystems hold the water, slowing its journey to the Schuylkill. Additionally, slowing the water down through a wetland cleans out pollutants and provides habitat to support more biodiversity. This is a picture of a rain garden a Jim Dietrich Park, which captures and holds some of the water that runs off from the park's lawns.


With development, we speed up the water's journey. Water travels over building roofs and pavement instead of percolating down into the groundwater. In the past, our urban and suburban areas were designed to get the water out of the way, and  many drains go straight to streams or rivers. So, this alone causes an enormous amount of pollution.
 

Stormwater carries any of the pesticides, fertilizers, trash, oils, etc that was on the pavement, and dumps it straight into the river.  Additionally, speeding up the water leads to flooding down river, which can be very destructive for communities. 

So, it's so important that the communities upstream manage their stormwater for the sale of the river, and the communities downstream!


All week I have been testing the water quality. I will be sharing more about the gradual changes we see as we get into river sections that are more and more surrounded by development!


One way of tackling this issue is to focus on reducing peak flows and flooding, and work to reduce volume of run off. Many municipalities take this on as part of the MS4 requirements- "municipal separate storm sewer system." This is a planned way to move, manage, and control storm water. MS4 takes a lot of work and planning, but you can get involved by joining your municipality's environmental action council. There is a lot more you can do around your home as well! 


Here's a photo of a well designed parking lot at Pottstown Riverfront Park! Breaking up the pavement by adding in trees and swales helps more water soak into the ground, and less run  off to our river. 


 Upstream, we don't see the costs of stormwater run-off that communities downstream pay for water treatment. Working to restore and protect the Schuylkill river isn't just about healthy wildlife and a beautiful river for recreation. Protecting the river is about healthy people, and vibrant communities!!So 




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