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The Wissahickon in Upper Gwynedd

Health of the Creek

Wissahickon Clean Water Partnership

The Wissahickon Valley is home to almost a quarter of a million people. In this highly developed area, water running off of roofs, driveways, lawns and parking lots picks up contaminants like motor oil and grease from automobiles, lawn chemicals, weedkiller, pet waste and other pollutants and washes them into local waterways. As a result, the Wissahickon’s sediment and phosphorus pollution levels far exceed federal Clean Water Act standards.

The municipalities of the Wissahickon Watershed were given an opportunity to create their own TMDL Alternative plan to address some of these water quality issues. 

12 suburban municipalities plus the Philadelphia Water Department in the Wissahickon Watershed have adopted an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) ordinance to officially move forward with the Wissahickon Clean Water Partnership. The Agreement simply states that they will commit to work together on a real plan to improve drinking water, mitigate damaging flooding, reduce streambank erosion, protect fish and wildlife and restore valuable recreation area throughout the Creek corridor. 

WVWA once again led the effort to educate elected officials representing the 16 municipalities in the watershed – as well as local residents – about the importance of officially signing onto the Wissahickon Clean Water Partnership. Some residents remain unaware of the Creek’s importance to drinking water or that it is officially considered “impaired.” Through these efforts, over 1,100 residents signed a petition urging their local officials to vote to pass the IGA.

Decision-makers from all arenas say that the Partnership is imperative to protecting and restoring clean water. It enables the municipalities to own the solution collaboratively or together, and shape future regulatory guidelines instead of complying with the current pending strict pollution limit, or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) from the Federal government. The Partnership reduces costs for all participating municipalities due to the William Penn Foundation’s commitment of over $1 million in financial support for planning. In addition, the Partnership is advantageous in that it allows municipalities to share resources and receive guidance from experts in the field. 

“This is a win-win situation for today – for municipality leaders, for community members, and for the overall health of the Wissahickon Creek,” said Laurie Grant, Director of Institutional Advancement at WVWA. “More importantly, we should be thinking about tomorrow and join together to secure a healthy future for our children and grandchildren.”

The thirteen municipalities in the watershed who have signed the Intergovermental Agreement: Abington, Ambler, Cheltenham, Lansdale, Lower Gwynedd, Montgomery, North Wales, Philadelphia, Springfield, Upper Dublin, Upper Gwynedd, Whitemarsh, Whitpain. Horsham Township, Upper Moreland Township, Worcester Township, which make up only 3% of the watershed have deferred signing the IGA at this time, but have voiced their support. Representatives from each of the municipalities who signed onto the IGA will meet in the fall to officially appoint the team and determine next steps.

 

Stream Monitoring & Assessment Program

The WVWA Stream Monitoring & Assessment Program (Stream MAP) uses key indicators to evaluate water quality, stream habitat and biological conditions. Stream MAP assesses upstream-downstream differences and trends over time, providing useful data to local governments, agencies and the public. The goal of this program is to inform and improve watershed-based conservation land planning and stewardship.

Dissolved oxygen content, nutrient levels and biotic integrity indices in the Wissahickon Creek indicate that habitat conditions in the Creek are stressful, due to highly variable flow from drought and flood conditions, erosion and sedimentation. The Creek’s water quality is influenced by wastewater inputs and limited riparian buffers in its headwater areas. Consequently, the diversity and abundance of aquatic insects - particularly sensitive species - is quite limited. Such limitations in biological diversity are generally reflected in other aspects of watershed biology as well, such as amphibians and birds. While the Wissahickon is rather typical of streams in urban and suburban watersheds, it is nonetheless impaired and there is room for improvement and support.

To see the analysis of the important data compiled through WVWA’s Stream MAP work please read WissahickonMapPoster.pdf