EPA Region 3
Topic: Schuylkill Action Network
Date: October 2008
(Sound of water being poured into a glass)
Lena Kim: If you live in Philadelphia or in one of the city's surrounding counties, chances are your tap water comes from the Schuylkill River. The river, one hundred and thirty miles long, flows from its headwaters at the Tuscarora Springs in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, to the tidal Delaware River at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia.
Lena Kim: Hi. I'm Lena Kim of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Atlantic region, and welcome to Environment Matters – our new series of podcasts.
For more than two centuries, the Schuylkill River has been an important source for drinking water in the Philadelphia region. Today, one-and-a half million people rely on the Schuylkill as their source of tap water, that's why protecting the river is a high priority for Philadelphia and neighboring communities working together as SAN -- the Schuylkill Action Network.
Jennifer Adkins, executive director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and member of SAN, says since 2003 when EPA, the City of Philadelphia's Water Department and others joined to create SAN, progress has been made.
Jen : Well, we know from the source water assessment done by the Philadelphia Water Department, and the DEP and EPA, that there are several major threats to the health of the Schuylkill River and those include storm water runoff pollution, agricultural runoff pollution and also drainage from abandoned mine systems in the watershed. In fact in 2005, our organization, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, worked with the Water Department and other SAN partners to apply for an EPA grant -- a targeted watershed grant and were successful in that. That grant has actually helped to fund over 40 different projects in the watershed that are addressing these types of threats to the health of the river.
Lena Kim: One of the most important things SAN has achieved is the breakdown of barriers that in the past stymied cooperation among neighboring communities. Jurisdictional boundaries, zoning issues, local ordinances, and budgetary constraints are just some of the conflicting matters that made it difficult to manage environmental problems across the Schuylkill watershed.
Jen: Because of all these jurisdictional boundaries, one of the main values of something like the Schuylkill Action Network is to take a more holistic approach and to look at the system as a whole as an ecosystem -- and not just the parts of it because many of the organizations and agencies that are charged with managing our resources do have jurisdiction boundaries. So it takes getting together to really see the whole picture. If you look at it just locality by locality, it doesn't make a lot of sense because one person or one municipality's storm water management problem or their erosion problem, is going to be another person's or municipality's flooding problem downstream. So you really have to look at the system as a whole.
Lena Kim: While SAN's overall mission is to protect and preserve the Schuylkill River as a drinking water resource, Jen Adkins says she and other SAN leaders want many more people to value the river for its recreational benefits, too. In fact, one way that SAN measures its success in educating the public about the river's health, is by tallying the number of events held along the Schuylkill River and the number of participants.
Jen: I would definitely say that in the Schuylkill River Watershed and in the Estuary as a whole we're definitely seeing more interest in riverfront areas and more people sort of turning to the river and wanting to have more interaction with the river.
Host: Rob Sanchez, an EPA environmental engineer, has been a big fan of the Schuylkill River for more than 20 years now. He says he gained a strong appreciation for the river when he began a new hobby in 1983 -- dragon boat racing.
Rob Sanchez: In the early 80s, when I was out on the water, we would be very cautious about getting splashed with the water because we knew it was dirty. We'd see oily sheens and it was evidence when we would take our boats out of the water and on our paddles we would see the sheen of something -- oil or some chemical possibly on there. Today, what we're finding is that we can actually see down to the bottom of the river. It's very clear and plus there's a lot of vegetation that's growing, which also indicates that the river has gotten very healthy. So it's a pleasure to be out by the river enjoying not only the beautiful scenery but also the serenity of the river.
Lena Kim: For information about the watershed you live in and what you can do to protect your nearby rivers, lakes, and streams, go to www.epa.gov and click on water, then look for the topic 'watersheds.'
And thanks for joining us on Environment Matters, our new series of podcasts.