From the Director’s Notebook: Putting Resources into Protecting our Most Precious Resource

Conservation // March 08, 2023

By Ruffian Tittmann, Executive Director

Photo by Monika Hemmers

No one would dispute the vital importance of clean, available water. It’s something we have come to expect. Since one in three Philadelphians get their drinking water from the Wissahickon Creek, we spend a lot of time at FOW educating our community about how the health of the creek affects the quality of their water and its availability. Taking care of the creek and the surrounding 64-mile Wissahickon Watershed, is a constant struggle against development, stormwater runoff, pollution (including trash), changing climate, flooding damage, and threats to habitat.

Stormwater management is a big focus for us. In January, we held our annual Public Projects Meeting, where we provided updates about capital improvement projects underway or beginning this year. Most of these projects seek to prevent or mitigate erosion from stormwater runoff. Our guest speaker, Rick Howley, who leads stream restoration efforts with our long-term Philadelphia Water Department partners, joined us to discuss PWD’s projects in the park which are repairing the damage from uncontrolled stormwater, exacerbated by the worsening deterioration of Philadelphia’s more than 200-year-old water systems.

FOW works with other partners to tackle the many challenges of watershed management. For example, FOW and volunteers join Wissahickon Trails for its Annual Wissahickon Creek Cleanup, an event that’s been cleaning trash from the creek, its tributaries, and local trails for more than 50 years. Since 1990, FOW has worked with the Chestnut Hill Conservancy to proactively address stormwater runoff in the lower Wissahickon watershed, promote natural drainage, and protect the area’s significant privately-owned green spaces from development. Protecting the vast network of park-adjacent, privately held land through this conservation easement program is essential to the health of the Wissahickon and Philadelphia’s water supply.

There are many ways you can minimize the impact on the creek and the watershed, in the park and in your neighborhood.

Here are some ideas:

  • Reduce the amount of chemicals going into the watershed. Wash your car at a car wash instead of in your driveway, avoid using fertilizers and pesticides, and properly dispose of hazardous chemicals instead of pouring them down the drain.
  • Manage water on your property. Landscape with native species as a low-maintenance alternative to lawns, which don’t soak up stormwater well and need mowing. Rain and pollinator gardens absorb water and encourage biodiversity in your neighborhood. Consider installing a rain barrel, which captures roof runoff, to control water flowing from your property and to conserve for watering your plants. 
  • Pick up after your pet. Dog waste is very acidic and contains lots of fecal coliform bacteria, both of which negatively impact the water quality.

Want to get even more involved?

  • Learn more about the Wissahickon Watershed and share your knowledge with friends and family. Do they know what a watershed is? (Hint: It’s all the land that drains or “sheds” water into a specific body of water, like the Wissahickon Creek.) Or that everyone lives in a watershed? The Creekside Classroom in our Virtual Valley is a great source of information.
  • Become a member of FOW. We connect with partners and local constituents advocating for water quality. Acting collectively as a community can have powerful results.
  • Vote for and advocate with elected officials who have influence over policies that affect our watershed and can move the needle at the government level. The historic funding commitment from the Biden-Harris Administration to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to update Philadelphia’s aging drinking water infrastructure, including lead service lines, is a critical step forward.

 Put these organizations and events on your radar and consider getting involved:

 o   Keep Philly Green & Water Clean campaign: Elevates green stormwater infrastructure as a key environmental issue among Philadelphia’s municipal leadership and residents.

o   PA Clean Water Action: “…protecting our water and health, from watershed to water tap.”

o   Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed: “Unites organizations working throughout the region to enhance their capacity to effectively advocate for protecting and restoring the Delaware River Basin.” (The Wissahickon and the Schuylkill River are vital parts of the basin.)

o   UN Water World Water Day: “Accelerating Change”/UN 2023 Water Conference, March 22-24.

  • “The global Be the change (you want to see in the world) campaign encourages people to take action in their lives to change how they use, consume, and manage water. These promises from individuals and communities will contribute to the Water Action Agenda alongside larger commitments from governments, companies, organizations, institutions, and coalitions. 

Read the compelling story about what we can learn from a hummingbird about how we can help solve problems with water.

 The takeaway: The actions you take, no matter how small, will help solve the issues of water quality in our own backyard.