What Does The Wissahickon Do For Us?

News // April 22, 2020

This Earth Day, I want to begin by asking a question – what does the Wissahickon do for us?

Spending the afternoon in the Wissahickon Valley Park feels more valuable than ever with the current Stay At Home Order. And while this experience is so important, the Wissahickon offers much more than a place to visit. That’s only the surface of what the Wissahickon and watersheds like it do for us: healthy watersheds improve the quality of life for people and the environment overall, benefiting our health, our economy, and our greater ecosystem.

Let’s start with health. Healthy watersheds and their surrounding green space mean better air and water quality. Less air pollution leads to lower rates of chronic asthma and heart conditions, while better water quality reduces the incidence of cancer. Simply spending time outside also has serious health benefits: it helps to alleviate depression and anxiety, boost the immune system, and control inflammation. With all these benefits, it’s clear that green space is a public health necessity. And as the COVID-19 outbreak has tragically shown, Philly’s most vulnerable communities have the least access to green space, the highest rates of air pollution, and are suffering disproportionately from this disease. 

Watersheds have a big economic impact too. By acting as a natural filter, they make it cheaper to treat our water. The opportunities for fishing, hiking, biking, and wildlife watching in watersheds bring tourism to areas that look after their rivers and streams – and tourism spending supported more than half a million Pennsylvania jobs in 2019. If that wasn’t enough, watersheds are also the most effective tool against climate change and the impacts we’re experiencing now and expect to see in the future. By controlling stormwater runoff and flooding, trapping carbon dioxide in mature trees, and preventing urban heat islands, our watersheds will make sure that our city and commonwealth are livable for future generations. 

That’s what the Wissahickon does for us. But what can we do to ensure the Wissahickon and our watersheds continue to provide so much? The answer is simple: protect watersheds, protect the environment, protect the Earth. 

This means ensuring that environmental protections in the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act are strongly enforced on the federal level – and it means funding the organizations in our commonwealth like DEP and DCNR that protect both our environment and us. Lastly, it means doing our part for our local watersheds as individual stewards: leaving no trace when we visit the Wissahickon, including picking up trash on our own, and making sure everyone knows the impact of these necessary watersheds. 

Our physical and economic health is directly dependent on the health of our environment. Let’s recognize that fact, and take up a new approach grounded in public health, long-term investments, and environmental justice – and follow it with our voice and votes.

Wishing you all good health,

Ruffian Tittmann, FOW Executive Director