By Carolyn Belardo
How is climate change affecting the Delaware River and its surrounding forests and lands? What new contaminants are flowing off farms and into streams?
Are current technologies sufficient to deal with these issues or are more sophisticated tools needed?
These are some of the major environmental issues that will be addressed in a new $5 million research initiative announced today by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
Administered by the Academy and financed by the William Penn Foundation, the Delaware Watershed Research Fund was developed to investigate these and other major questions related to watersheds, particularly the Delaware River Basin, which flows from the Catskill Mountains in New York to the Atlantic Ocean.
“The study of watersheds and their function is one of the most important ways to understand issues like water pollution and the health and resiliency of our natural systems,” said Academy President and CEO George W. Gephart, Jr. “We are very pleased to enter this new phase of commitment with the William Penn Foundation to restore and protect the Delaware watershed and improve water quality.”
The Academy’s Patrick Center for Environmental Research has a history of more than 70 years of national leadership in using science to inform the protection of environmental quality in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
The Academy’s watershed research uses field and laboratory studies to analyze and simulate the functioning of aquatic systems, integrating mapping with hydrologic, bioenergetic, ecological and other methods of measurement and analysis at multiple spatial scales.
The Delaware River Watershed (the region that drains into the river) covers more than 13,500 square miles spanning Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York. In addition to being a major source of drinking water for 15 million people, the watershed supports an array of water-related economic enterprises valued at $25 billion per year, as well as significant habitat for wildlife.
Although the condition of the river has improved greatly since the 1960s, thanks to the regulation of industrial and municipal discharges, many of the streams and rivers flowing into the Delaware River remain impaired by agricultural runoff, municipal stormwater, erosion, sediment, and a variety of other causes.
The Delaware Watershed Research Fund is an outgrowth of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, a multi-year effort of more than 50 environmental nonprofits and numerous public and private partners to monitor, protect and restore conditions in the streams, rivers and landscapes in eight targeted geographies within the watershed.
Through the initiative, the Foundation has been a lead funder and provided more than $40 million over three years to 50 nonprofit organizations, including the Academy, that are working cooperatively to protect high-quality waterways and restore damage to watersheds from stresses such as urban stormwater and agricultural runoff.
This aligned work, in places ranging from the Poconos and Upstate New York to the Brandywine Valley and New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore—is complemented by a significant water quality monitoring program designed and led by the Academy.
There are a variety of scientific questions that remain unanswered in understanding the relationships between watersheds and waterways. Last year Academy scientists met with scientists and researchers in a variety of fields and developed a list of major research questions related to the Delaware River Basin and watershed studies in general.
The $5 million Delaware Watershed Research Fund will be awarded through a competitive process to researchers and institutions working on topics related to these major research themes.
“Conservation organizations in our region have been using science to inform their work for decades, and we are excited to partner with the Academy of Natural Sciences to significantly increase access to applied research and promote evidence-based approaches to watershed protection,” said Andrew Johnson, program director for watershed protection at the William Penn Foundation. “By integrating research in the areas where the work is taking place, it ensures the most immediate connection between what we’re learning and what we’re implementing on the ground.”
Interested researchers are invited to respond to the Request for Proposal posted on the Academy’s website: www.ansp.org/dwrfgrants. The Academy will work with expert reviewers to identify the most qualified applicants. The awards will be announced in spring 2016.
Top photo by Meg O’Donnell/ANS