Celebrating momentous progress for water quality, river restoration and community revitalization, American Rivers Tuesday named the Delaware River the “River of the Year” for 2020.
“The Delaware River is a national success story,” said Bob Irvin, president and CEO of American Rivers. “The River of the Year honor recognizes the hard work of many local advocates who understand that a healthy Delaware River is vital to the health of millions of people.
“The Delaware shows how a healthy river can be an engine for thriving communities and strong local economies.”
The Delaware River watershed provides drinking water to two of the five largest cities in the U.S. –New York and Philadelphia – and is home to one of the largest freshwater ports in the world. The watershed contributes billions of dollars to the local economy every year from water supply, recreation, tourism and other benefits.
Seventy-five years ago, the Delaware River was choked with pollution and sewage. Parts of the river were dead zones, unable to support fish or other aquatic life.
According to the Delaware River Basin Commission, “The river’s water was so foul that it would turn the paint of ships brown as they traveled through or were docked for any period of time. People were sickened simply by the smell of the river.”
Today, the Delaware River is on the mend and thriving. Through federal safeguards, state action and local initiative, the quality of water in the Delaware has dramatically improved, fish and wildlife have returned in tremendous numbers and the mainstem of the Delaware remains the longest free-flowing river in the eastern U.S., with the most extensive National Wild and Scenic River protection of any watershed in the country.
American Rivers identified four key factors responsible for the Delaware River’s rebound: federal, regional and state enforcement of clean water safeguards; innovative local water management, prioritizing natural infrastructure and equity; state collaboration to ensure adequate water supplies; and federal protections for the free-flowing river.
“Communities along the Delaware River are setting a national example for river stewardship,” said Irvin. “We must use these lessons to ensure healthy rivers, equitable access and clean water in cities nationwide.”
American Rivers cautioned that while communities along the Delaware should celebrate the river’s progress, important work remains. Ongoing commitment from leaders and local communities is critical to address growing challenges, such as aging water infrastructure, urban development and climate change.
Severe storms, occurring with increasing frequency due to climate change, threaten drinking water intakes with saltwater intrusion and can cause sewage overflows at ill-prepared water treatment plants – all of which has a disproportionate impact on historically underserved communities in the Delaware basin.
American Rivers made the River of the Year announcement in conjunction with the release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2020. The annual list spotlights 10 rivers facing urgent threats. Visit AmericanRivers.org/EndangeredRivers.