Looking Out For Your Local Watershed

Conservation // June 24, 2020

It’s National Rivers Month, so we thought we’d take some time to examine how much we rely on our local rivers, streams, and watersheds, including the Wissahickon Watershed, and what we can do for them! 

Let’s start with some definitions: a watershed is all the land that drains to a creek or river. For the Wissahickon, that includes the 64 square miles of Montgomery and Philadelphia counties that flow into the 23-mile long Wissahickon Creek. The Wissahickon then joins the Schuylkill River just above the Queen Lane Water Treatment Plant, which provides drinking water for more than 350,000 Philadelphians. These two bodies of water are a vital piece of the greater Delaware River Basin, which serves as a water source for more than 15 million people! 

Since chances are you’re drinking treated Wissahickon and Schuylkill water, it’s natural to want to improve water quality in those watersheds. But drinking water is just scratching the surface of all your neighborhood watershed does: the Wissahickon watershed and its surrounding parkland also cools the city, making hot summers in Philly more bearable and lowering temperatures in the area. Native plants, local wildlife, and migratory birds all depend on an ecosystem fueled by the water of the Wissahickon Creek as well – and the Wissahickon Valley Park wouldn’t be the same without it either. Given how much watersheds improve our quality of life, it’s important for us to protect them for future generations.

This means working to improve the quality of water in the Wissahickon throughout the watershed, which is under pressure from point and non-point source pollution.  Within the 64 square mile area of the Wissahickon Watershed, surface runoff and overland flow degrade the water quality, erode stream banks, and add sediment to the Wissahickon Creek. This impacts not only our source of drinking water, but the habitat and infrastructure surrounding and within the Creek. FOW has invested millions of dollars in capital improvements throughout the Wissahickon Valley Park over the last two decades to address these problems and directly improve the water quality of the Wissahickon Creek. The recently completed Forbidden Drive Streambank Stabilization Project and the future Lavender Trail Gully project are two large-scale examples of our commitment to protect water quality,  but all the work we do with the community in the Wissahickon Valley Park and Watershed, from advocacy, to trail improvements and trash cleanups, are in direct service to the protection of this vital source of drinking water for the city of Philadelphia.

We can all take personal actions to protect the watershed, too! Be sure to carry out what you carry into the Wissahickon Valley Park, don’t dump anything down the stormwater drains, and if you bring your dog to the park, remember to pick up any dog waste and prevent it from washing into the waterways. And at home, you can apply principles of green stormwater infrastructure to your backyard by adding a rain barrel and rain garden. And of course become a member of your local watershed group! We can all work together to keep the watershed clean and green!