About the Delaware
PA's River of the Year 2011: The Delaware River and its Watershed -
Steeped in History, Diverse in Resources, and Vital to Protect
The Delaware River is the longest, undammed U.S. river east of the Mississippi. It forms a border between New York and Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and New Jersey and Delaware. When you are on one bank of the Delaware River or Delaware Bay and looking across, you are always looking towards another state.
Lenape Indians were some of the original inhabitants of the Delaware Valley long before the arrival of European settlers. They referred to the Delaware River as the Lenapewihittuk, the River of the Lenape. Many tributaries to the Delaware, as well as some local towns and villages, are still referred to by their Native American names, and the region's history cannot be accurately told without referencing its native peoples' roots and culture.
In colonial times, the river was first mapped by Dutch explorer Henry Hudson in 1609. As part of the New Netherland colony, the Delaware River was called the South River, in contrast to the North River, as the Hudson River was then known. The name Delaware, for Sir Thomas West, Baron De La Warr, was used by the English and became standard following the English 1664 conquest of New Netherland. The English then also referred to all native peoples living along the river and its tributaries as Delaware Indians, instead of as Lenape.
The Delaware River extends 330 miles from the confluence of its east and west branches at Hancock, N.Y. to the mouth of the Delaware Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The river is fed by 216 tributaries, the largest being the Schuylkill and Lehigh Rivers in Pennsylvania. In all the river's watershed, or basin, is over 13,500 square miles, draining parts of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Over 15 million people rely on the waters of the Delaware River Basin for drinking, agriculture, and industrial use. This figure includes over 7 million people living in the New York City area and northern New Jersey who live outside the watershed, but get a portion of their drinking water supplied from the Delaware River.
Three reaches of the Delaware's main stem, as well as portions of several selected tributaries, have been included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. According to the "Wild and Scenic Rivers Act" signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, "certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations." According to the National Park Service's web site, the U.S. has 3.5 million miles of rivers, but only 11,434 river miles (just over one-quarter of one percent) are included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
Over 3/4 of the Delaware's non-tidal river is considered nationally wild and scenic. One section extends 73 miles from Hancock, N.Y. downstream to Milrift, Pa. and is also known as the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, a unit of the National Park Service. The second is a 40-mile stretch from just south of Port Jervis, N.Y. downstream to the Delaware Water Gap near Stroudsburg, Pa., also a unit of the National Park Service (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area). The last segment of the Delaware's main stem included in the national system is known as the Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River, a 38.9-mile stretch linking the Delaware Water Gap and Washington Crossing, Pa., just upstream from Trenton, N.J. (this section also includes about 28 miles of selected tributaries). Sections of the Maurice River in New Jersey (a Delaware Bay tributary) and the Musconetcong River in New Jersey (a Delaware River tributary), as well as the White Clay Creek in Pennsylvania and Delaware (which flows into the Christina River, a tributary to the Delaware) also have been included in the national system.
The entire non-tidal reach of the Delaware is considered Special Protection Waters by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a program that provides added water quality protection as a way to "keep the clean water clean" and quite possibly creates the longest stretch of anti-degradation policy on any river in the nation. Additionally, the Delaware Estuary - the Delaware Bay and tidal reach of the Delaware River - has been included in the National Estuary Program, a project set up to protect estuarine systems of national significance.
There are numerous economic benefits from the river. The tourism industry brings millions of dollars to the region annually; hiking, boating, birding, camping, and fishing are popular recreational activities throughout the watershed. For example, the upper Delaware is home to a world-class trout fishery, and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is one of the top ten most visited national parks in the country. The magestic bald eagle can be regularly seen soaring above the river looking for its favorite food (fish), while more horseshoe crabs arrive each spring to lay their eggs on the shores of the Delaware Bay than anywhere else in the world.
Simultaneously, the Delaware River Port Complex - including docking facilities in Wilmington, Del., Philadelphia, Pa., and Camden, N.J. - is the largest freshwater port in the world. The port complex generates billions of dollars annually, handling everything from military supplies, petrochemicals/crude oil, steel, paper, meat, cocoa beans, and fruit. According to Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara, District Commander of the 5th Coast Guard District, in 2005, "the port is critical not only to the region, but also to the nation."
In all, the Delaware River truly is a national treasure, and also a community treasure worthy of the honor of being named Pennsylvania's 2011 River of the Year!