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Charles Meredith: A history of Bucks County water


Dear Friends,

Good morning. Mighty Betsy and I stay close to our former daughter in law. She’s the mother of our two grandchildren and has done a remarkably good job raising them as a single mom.

Today, Grace and Quint Meredith are in their mid-20s. Grace, the older, works at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in marketing and publicity. Quint’s weeks are spent at the Bucks County Herald in circulation and distribution. Quint is the fifth generation of Merediths to be in the newspaper business … actually the sixth generation if you include Hugh Meredith, Benjamin Franklin’s printing partner in 1728.

A few weeks ago, our former daughter in law called me about a hike that she and her husband were taking in Peace Valley Park and Lake Galena. She didn’t know that my county administration had created the Peace Valley Park and its 1,500 acres in middle Bucks County plus Core Creek Park and Lake Luxembourg (its sister park) with 1,200 acres in lower Bucks.

We three county commissioners (Joseph Canby, Walter Farley, and I) created the Neshaminy Water Resources Authority in 1967 to solve three problems: (1) reduce the deaths and damage caused by annual spring flooding along the Neshaminy Creek, the major Delaware River tributary in Central and Lower Bucks (2) create water supply for the townships of Central Bucks and Montgomery counties and (3) add significant acreage to the Bucks County park system.

In 1967, I was 32 and in the first year of my six commissioner years. By the time 1972 rolled around, I had chosen not to seek reelection. My father had died and I had to make a choice between remaining in politics and government or returnng to the Quakertown Free Press. I chose the newspaper.

In those intervening years, we three commissioners purchased the land for the 14 earthen dams (if my memory is correct); established Peace Valley and Core Creek Parks; and built the famous (or infamous depending upon your point of view) pumping station at Point Pleasant.

Thanks to the knowledge and organizational skills of John T. Carson, our Bucks County project manager, this enormous concept took shape.

Carson knew that we three were uncomfortable with the notion of paying for the project by increasing property taxes. So he negotiated with the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) to pay for flood control, park acquisition, and water supply through the sale of water to PECO. PECO needed water to cool its atomic nuclear towers on the Schuylkill River at Limerick.

There were nearly 40 miles separating the two watersheds of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. Carson’s team devised a plan to build a pump at Point Pleasant, about 20 miles north of New Hope; capture water from the Delaware River; and pump it uphill to a reservoir, which the NWRA had created (the Bradshaw Reservoir).

Whenever PECO needed water to cool its nuclear towers, the NWRA would release water from the Bradshaw Reservoir and let the water flow by gravity through the upper branch of the Perkiomen Creek to the Schuykill River at Limerick.

The idea worked like a charm but it would take more than 10 years after my service and endless battles through the courts to prove the case. Opponents of atomic power and supporters of the environment were certain that disaster would strike. They created an organization to stop the project and called it “Del-AWARE.” It set up shop at Point Pleasant and caused havoc and years of delay.

Del-AWARE even enlisted Abbey Hoffman, the famous protestor of the Vietnam War, to get involved. Fortunately, Bucks County Judge Isaac “Zeke” Garb agreed to hear the case. It was he who sided with the Bucks commissioners and allowed the pumping station to become a reality. Judge Garb was fearless. He was facing a 10-year retention vote for his judicial position. The county was divided about whether the project would harm the environment or not. Others might have avoided the struggle. But Garb stood firm.

As it turned out, the environment was not damaged. And PECO paid for the project just as John Carson had imagined. But there’s plenty of resentment still remaining in Tinicum Township. And, it will probably take a few more generations to get over the hurt.

Still, for me, those years with John Carson turned out remarkably well.

So did the early years of the 1960s when the Bucks County Community College became a reality in 1964. But that’s a story for another day.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith

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