It’s your choice: helping the Delaware, helping your neighbors


Hundreds of people all over the Delaware River watershed are taking a pledge to do their part to make the river's waters cleaner. So that you, and Trenton and a hundred and more communities who depend on the Delaware River for drinking water will have a good supply.

The pledge is not of money, but time and attention. For example, you can make a pledge to be careful of what fertilizers you use on the land. The point of the project is neatly expressed in its title: Clear Choices, Clean Water.

Some of the other pledge choices: To find native plants to use in our gardens; to conserve water; or to volunteer to work on your own or with others to make the water safer.

So, Philly, you're saying thanks to all the individuals who have committed themselves to making a difference.

People like Michele Ulmer from Tafton, PA.: She says that water conservation is pretty much a part of her family's life, which is not too surprising since she works for the Pike County (PA) Conservation District.

"The pledge is a simple way for anyone to do a little bit to help the river, and if everyone does a little bit then it becomes a huge help," she said. Also, another benefit — since your pledge goes on a map with your name (first name and initial) — your neighbors can see that and might be inspired to take a pledge as well.

It gives you a sense that you're working with people all over the watershed, building a "water" bond, creating a better sense of the value of water.

The idea came from Indiana, where according to its website: "In 2010, the White River Alliance and the Tippecanoe Watershed Foundation teamed up to implement this unique social marketing strategy to increase awareness and knowledge about household choices and their impacts on water quality in our watersheds."

In Indiana the initiative has a wide array of sponsors, including municipalities that use the program for community outreach and to help them comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

Now the website they created forms the basis for the Delaware River project.

On the website there are lots of ways to investigate the various pledges. The Delaware Highlands Conservancy, which spearheaded this project, has tailored the content to our river.

Bethany Keene is Delaware Highlands Outreach and Development Coordinator, and is the person largely responsible for adapting the site to the Delaware River.

"They (Delaware Highlands Conservancy) did a magnificent job," said Ellen Lott, project manager for Land Conservation for the Nature Conservancy. "I'm optimistic that people will enjoy the website and use it."

You should also thank the organizations that are sponsoring this drive to get us all on the water-quality bandwagon most notably the Delaware Highlands Conservancy, who brought the idea to our region and also Brodhead Watershed Association, the Pocono Heritage Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlands  Conservancy and the National Lands Trust. In addition, Catskill Mountainkeeper and Water Defense are outreach partners.

The project received some help from the Pennsylvania Environmental Council but is largely underwritten by the William Penn Foundation, which has made a name for itself for helping to develop the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. The Delaware River itself carves its way for 330 miles between four states: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Its watershed includes the tributaries that drain into the river and all the land drained by all of these rivers and streams, about 13,000 square miles in those four states.

The premise of the DRWI is that, basically, water starts clean and gets dirty/polluted as we use it. In order to maximize what's clean and clean up what isn't, the project has selected eight essential sections, called sub-watersheds.

Within each of those sub-watersheds, the project unites organizations that are already working on water issues. Delaware Highlands Conservancy is part of the Kittatinny-Poconos cluster.

"Part of what this cluster is charged with is protecting the good water quality that they already have," said Clare Billett, program officer in the watershed protection arm of William Penn. From her point of view, the program is a worthy experiment to see if it can connect with regular citizens, as well as provide municipal outreach.

"We need to raise public awareness," she said, "about the value of land protection in conserving good water. Most people (in the Upper Delaware) don't understand the long-term threat to this water, and are lax about valuing what they already have."

And hey Philly — maybe the best way of saying "Thank you" is to pass it (clean water) on. You can pledge as well. Have a look here.

Make yourself at home.

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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