By Katie Attinello
The Delaware River, named a “Wild and Scenic River” by President Johnson in the 1960s, is the longest free-flowing river on the East Coast—and the fifth most polluted river in the United States. That startling fact is a sad reality for those living along the river’s route, which stretches for 330 miles through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
In the last decade, the Delaware has become a source of environmental focus for many river towns and NJ locals, especially. Residents of Hunterdon and Warren Counties in New Jersey experienced severe flooding (which led to sewage, gas, and other runoff pollution) three separate times within a two-year period from 2004 to 2006. Many in those areas feared that rainfall from the more recent hurricanes Irene and Sandy would cause the same problem. Fortunately, those storms caused less river-related water damage than the previous rainstorms.
Flood contamination, however, may pale in comparison to other sources of the Delaware’s pollution: in 2005, a damaged containment area allowed upwards of 60 million gallons of fly ash from a power plant in Northampton County, Pennsylvania to spill into the river. For months afterward, foam from the spill could be spotted along the same stretch of the river affected by the ’04 to ’06 floods. Later, in 2010, an estimated 6.7 million pounds of toxins were released into the tidal portion of the river from the DuPont Chambers Works in Salem County, exceeding the 5.3 million pounds of waste dumping permitted by law.
The latest environmental hazard facing the Delaware is a product of its location. As an article from StateImpact.NPR.org reports: “About one-third of the Delaware River Basin, in New York and Pennsylvania, lies above Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits,” which make it a tempting fracking ground for companies looking to drill new wells. The drilling has become an enormous debate between the state, environmental advocacy groups, residents, and gas companies, due to the high risk of water contamination from the drilling process, and the amount of water removal required for the creation of each well. In addition, many locals are simply heartbroken over the loss of the Delaware’s beautiful scenery, which fracking can obliterate.
Yet, there are reports of progress. A Philly.com article last fall noted that many indicators of health and revival in the river and its bay near Philadelphia are looking up. They also noted a significant loss of forests and wetlands within the last two decades, which has not aided in the Delaware’s recovery. Those groups dedicated to the river’s well being will continue to monitor the both the improvement markers and potential pollutants affecting the river in the coming years, with efforts to restore and protect the Delaware ultimately at the forefront of their mission.
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