“For us here on the Delaware, flooding is the number one issue with stormwater runoff, which contributes a lot to flooding. And then the other thing that’s an issue is development. Allowing people to build, and build and build, now where’s the water going to go?” asked Phillipsburg resident Laura Oltman.
From Oltman’s balcony, there’s a clear view of the Delaware River. She says over the years the water has also been polluted by sewage treatment facilities, paper mills in the area dumping chemicals and garbage being thrown right in. All sorts of old bottles are visible as you walk from her home closer to the water.
“It’s hard to know what’s in a big river where there’s been so much industrial pollution over the years,” said Oltman.
That’s why the William Penn Foundation is donating $42 million over the next three years to protect and restore clean water in the Delaware River watershed.
” … which includes parts of four states, 13,500 square miles in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware,” said Andrew Johnson, director of the Watershed Protection Program at the William Penn Foundation.
The foundation has already donated $64 million over the past four years for the same efforts.
“This group of conservation organizations that we support, 65 organizations in the four states, including 16 in New Jersey, are protecting forests, restoring farm fields, working with farmers on their agricultural practices to ensure the fertilizer doesn’t run into streams and working with municipalities on stormwater and flooding — all of that carries pollution into rivers,” said Johnson.
“New Jersey, as one of the 13 original colonies, has seen a lot of development and a lot of damage to our waterways, so it’s not in great shape. There are some areas that are particularly clean such as in the Pinelands and the Highlands, and those are the areas we’re working to make sure they stay clean,” said Jennifer Coffey, executive director for the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions.
Coffey says the key to the initiative has been working in strategic places.
“We are seeing on small tributaries such as in South Jersey on the Salem River, and in Hammonton, we’re starting to see improvements in water quality. There’s less nitrogen and less phosphorus flowing into the water. And we’re also seeing real benefits for people’s lives. We’re seeing resolving of some local flooding issues on community roads,” said Coffey.
“The 65 groups have preserved 30,000 acres of land, and they’ve restored 8,000 acres of land in very targeted places in the watershed. And we’re seeing improved water quality in places where those projects actually occur,” said Johnson.
Oltman references her water well saying, “I wouldn’t just go out there and scoop a handful of it straight out of the river right there, I wouldn’t do that.”
She says she has noticed the Delaware River watershed is a lot cleaner than it used to be. After she poured herself a glass of water inside of her home, she says she hopes the water in the environment stays clean because after it gets filtered, that’s what she ends up drinking.