Stories in Pennsylvania

Protecting Freshwater in Pennsylvania & Delaware

A large river flows into a cloudy sky in the distance.
The Susquehanna River We are working in the Chesapeake Bay's largest tributary, the Susquehanna River, to implement practices that serve to keep this watershed healthy and sustainable. © Matt Kane/TNC

Freshwater ecosystems connect us all. Protecting our rivers, streams and wetlands is essential for maintaining clean drinking water and species biodiversity. Yet these aquatic systems remain threatened due to the threats of development, pollution and a changing climate. Since 1970, it is estimated that the world has lost nearly one-third of its freshwater resources.

In Pennsylvania and Delaware, TNC partners with state and federal agencies, community organizations, farmers, private landowners and other environmental partners in order to improve water quality. We deploy nature-based solutions to deliver benefits for both people and nature that will be durable and long-lasting, designed with equitable outcomes in mind.

Delaware River Headwaters 

We are working across the Delaware River headwaters to ensure the health of this critical ecosystem. 

A cleared path cuts through a forest sitting agasint a pink and purple hued sky.
Dick & Nancy Eales Preserve Our freshwater team is working to restore a stream channel at our Eales Preserve, which sits near the headwaters of the Delaware River. © Melisa Soysal/TNC

Flowing through New York’s Catskill mountains, Pennsylvania’s Poconos and the New Jersey Highlands, the Delaware River provides high-quality drinking water to more than 13 million people across four states, including residents of New York City and Philadelphia.

Home to an incredible diversity of fish, wildlife and scenic vistas, the Delaware River Basin supports coastal communities with commercial fisheries and river towns with robust tourism revenue. Its floodplains reduce the impacts of flooding on homes and businesses downstream. Upriver, tributary streams are cold, clear and full of fish.

An aerial photo of a body of a stream winding through a farm field and into a forest.
Cherry Creek TNC worked to restore this creek in order to reduce stream bank erosion and enhance aquatic habitat. © The Nature Conservnacy

Blakeslee Restoration

In 2022, TNC and its partners led a large-scale restoration effort at our Blakeslee Preserve in the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Pennsylvania. The project included efforts to reintroduce large woody material along a ¾-mile section of Cherry Creek that flows through the preserve in order to reduce stream bank erosion and enhance aquatic habitat. Additionally, TNC and US Forest Service co-hosted a four-day workshop to train other regional practitioners on the use of these techniques.

STREAM RESTORATION AT BLAKESLEE PRESERVE (4:34) TNC in PA/DE, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, began a restoration project to enhance a diverse mosaic of wetlands and floodplains to improve water quality and enhance aquatic habitat in the area.
A long eel sits in a shallow body of water.
American Eel An American eel rests on a rock in the Beaverkill River. © The Nature Conservancy/Mari-Beth DeLucia

Eel Research

After being delayed due to flooding from Hurricane Ida, the American eel outmigration tagging study has launched. The Delaware River mainstem and its Neversink River tributary present a unique opportunity to study the natural behavior of outmigration in adult American Eels, due to the lack of mainstem dams and the existence of multiple commercial eel weir fisheries. TNC, Delaware State University and NY Department of Conservation are working together with American eel weir harvesters in the Upper Delaware watershed to develop a robust understanding of the factors mediating the migration behavior in this enigmatic and important species.

The USFWS, TNC, American Rivers, New Jersey Department of Environmental Conservation, PA Fish and Boat Commission, the Philadelphia Water Department and Delaware River Keeper have just formed a Schuylkill River Fish Passage Workgroup. A key outcome of this workgroup is to begin to implement the priority fish passage improvement actions outlined in TNC’s Restoration Roadmap. The formation of a group such of this was also a key strategy outlined in our strategic plan. The Schuylkill River is considered the most important tributary in the Delaware River for the restoration of American Shad.

An aerial photo of a body of water against a tree line.
O'Conner Dam and Reservoir A view of the Reservoir before it was restored to its original streambed. © The Nature Conservnacy

Dam Removal

TNC recently removed the aging O’Conner Reservoir and dam at the Dick & Nancy Eales Preserve at Moosic Mountain along the mountain’s upper ridge. The dam itself was at risk of failure and the pH level of the water was no longer conducive to aquatic species. TNC worked with local partners to perform a controlled demolition to lower the water level and allow the original stream to return to its original flow pattern.

After the dam was breached and the reservoir drained, TNC’s freshwater team was delighted to see that the original stream channel, which spent more than 100 years at the bottom of a reservoir, was still intact. The drained lakebed will now serve as a natural floodplain for Sterry Creek.

Land Protection

For decades, TNC has purchased land parcels in the Upper Delaware basin and maintained them or transferred them to other partners in the region to be conserved in perpetuity. 

  • A body of water sits between two tree lines on either side.

    Shohola Creek

    1,071 acres; transferred to Pennsylvania Game Commission for addition to State Game Land 180 Learn More

  • Ferns and several tall and thin trees grown in a forest.

    Bear Creek

    240 acres, transferred to Pennsylvania Game Commission for addition to State Game Land 91 Learn More

  • Several tall and thin trees grow in a forest.

    Shohola Watershed

    130 acres; transferred to Pennsylvania Game Commission for addition to State Game Land 116 Learn More

  • A wooden bridge connects a path in a field.

    Harlacher / Cherry Valley

    78 acres; transferred to US Fish and Wildlife Service for addition to the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge Learn More

Chesapeake Bay Watershed 

We are working in the Chesapeake Bay's largest tributary, the Susquehanna River, to implement practices that serve to keep this watershed healthy and sustainable.

A small body of water flows through small green mountain ranges.
The Susquehanna River Every minute, almost 19 million gallons of freshwater flow into the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna River. © Nicholas Tonelli

The Chesapeake Bay’s watershed encompasses 64,000 square miles of streams and rivers, forests, farms and cities across six states. Every minute, almost 19 million gallons of freshwater flow into the Bay via its largest tributary, the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna watershed covers more than half of the land area of Pennsylvania. Advancing wetland restoration and sustainable agricultural practices are critical to successfully meeting our freshwater goals for the Chesapeake Bay.

Sustainable Agriculture 

A wheat plant sits in  of a setting sun and pink sky.
Sustainable Agriculture TNC is working with farmers across Pennsylvania to implement sustainable practices to save costs for farmers and clean water for the Chesapeake Bay. © Sean Tomlinson/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Agriculture is part of Pennsylvania’s heritage and powers the state’s economy. It also represents one of the largest sources of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay. In 2023, Sustainable Chesapeake, in collaboration with TNC and the PA 4R Alliance, received $1 million to advance practices that will reduce pollution by using manure and fertilizers more effectively over the next two growing seasons, influencing a total of over 4,000 acres.

Recently, 26 agricultural service providers participated in a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education workshop that TNC advised. That cohort has since gone on to log 72 individual educational outreach conversations with farmers, influencing 58,459 total acres. In 2024, TNC will kick off a year-long dairy farm pilot project designed to incentivize reductions in milk-urea nitrogen. These reductions can increase cow feed efficiency, decrease feed expenses for farmers, and ultimately reduce nitrogen in urine and manure. The result: cost savings for farmers and cleaner water for the Chesapeake Bay.

A group of people wearing waders and holding nets walk through a small creek.
Brook Trout Staff and partners took part in a Brook Trout survey in Hammer Creek which flows into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. © Mike Morris

Brook Trout Sruvey

TNC is committed to advancing wetland and floodplain restoration efforts by collaborating with partners throughout the watershed. In Pennsylvania, TNC and our partners at Lancaster Farmland Trust have reached out to over 150 targeted landowners this year to gauge their interest in various restoration efforts that could improve water quality locally, and ultimately, in the Chesapeake Bay.

TNC is also a member of the Upper Hammer Creek Partnership which seeks to advance conservation in a priority watershed. Earlier this summer, TNC joined Trout Unlimited and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in southern Lebanon County to perform brook trout surveys along Hammer Creek. The presence of brook trout indicates good water quality due to the specific conditions they need to live and breed.

The survey determined that the current conditions of the creek are sub-optimal for the trout. TNC is working to improve the species’ habitat, restoring wetlands and floodplains to cool streams and benefit the riparian ecosystem.

Philadelphia & Wilmington 

Freshwater not only plays a critical role in forests, agriculture and coasts but also in cities like Philadephia, PA, and Wilmington, DE.

A person leans toward the ground in a rain garden surrounded by tall grasses.
Rain Gardens Green stormwater infrastructure solutions like the rain garden TNC and community partners at Holmesburg Baptist church planted, work to mitigate flooding and pollution. © Melisa Soysal/TNC

Green Stormwater Infrastructure

Stormwater is the fastest-growing source of freshwater pollution in the world. In a historic urban area like Philadelphia, the city has expanded and developed over hundreds of years on top of an old water system that is susceptible to stormwater overflow, flooding and pollution. Green stormwater infrastructure solutions — rain gardens, underground storage tanks, green roofs, and downspout planters — unlock the power of nature to help mitigate these urban conservation challenges. Read more about how TNC is incorporating stormwater mitigation solutions in Philadelphia.

Green City Clean Waters (3:15) Philadelphia's Green City Clean Waters project aims to put green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) around the city to help nature capture runoff and improve water quality. Learn how TNC is working with community partners and organizations to create access to all the benefits of nature.
A stormwater drain sits in a small green space pouring water out into a small rock bed.
Natural Stormwater Solutions A stormwater retention site in Kemble Park, Philadelphia. © Steve Weinik
A peron sits on a rock in a shallow river looking into the camera.
Community Scienctists By monitoring the water quality of the Brandywine River, Stream Stewards help protect Wilmington’s drinking water supply. © Kim Hachadoorian/TNC

Stream Stewards

Stream Stewards is a community science program designed to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in watershed stewardship. Originally launched in 2016, Stream Stewards trains volunteers to engage with the scientific process by collecting water quality data from the streams that flow through First State National Historical Park (FRST) to Brandywine Creek. Brandywine Creek supplies 100% of the drinking water for Wilmington residents. When water runs off of surfaces with low permeability like paved roads, it carries contaminants that enter the streams that feed into Brandywine Creek. This run-off degrades the water quality and threatens this important resource, lowering its habitat value for wildlife and making it unsafe for activities such as fishing and swimming.

Through a partnership between TNC, the National Park Service and Stroud Water Research Center, and with funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Ernest E. Stempel Foundation, the Stream Stewards program is engaging community scientist volunteers in data collection that will help to address these water quality issues. In 2023, program volunteers celebrated another successful year of water quality monitoring work in the Brandywine-Christina watershed.

Through a partnership between TNC, the National Park Service and Stroud Water Research Center, and with funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Ernest E. Stempel Foundation, the Stream Stewards program is engaging community scientist volunteers in data collection that will help to address these water quality issues. In 2023, program volunteers celebrated another successful year of water quality monitoring work in the Brandywine-Christina watershed.

Wetlands in Southern Delaware

A setting sun creates an orange and pink hued sky behind a wetland march surrounded by tall green grasses.
Wetland Benefits 94% of wetland landowners in the Delmarva region agreed that wetlands can help protect wildlife. © Deb Felmey

Freshwater wetlands are a vital part of the landscape. They reduce the impacts of heavy rains by storing floodwaters, recharge groundwater reserves and filter excess nutrients and pollutants to provide clean water. They also help build resiliency against the impacts of a changing climate. They are also dynamic and vibrant places where an incredible web of life exists in careful balance. Yet Delaware is estimated to have the highest percentage of pollution-impacted rivers and streams in the U.S., which can harm our drinking water, our biodiversity, and the natural spaces we cherish.

Recently, in collaboration with the Delmarva Wetland Partnership, TNC conducted a survey of wetland landowners in the Delmarva region whose properties had been identified as priority areas for restoration. An ecological targeting model identified the properties as areas where wetland and adjacent upland restoration could provide the most benefits without impacting prime agricultural areas.

The results found:

  • Icon of three water droplets.

    75%

    Agreed that wetlands help reduce the impact of flooding

  • An icon of a bird in a marsh.

    94%

    Agreed that wetlands can help protect wildlife

  • Icon of a chainsaw.

    86%

    Expressed at least some interest in restoring their land

  • An icon of cattails.

    84%

    Felt these natural spaces were beautiful

  • Icon of three people in hard hats.

    65%

    Reported never being contacted about possible restoration

The results will guide future outreach efforts as the coalition focuses on engaging landowners to voluntarily restore wetlands on the Delmarva peninsula.