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A stream is not just the water that flows through a channel.  A stream includes its bed, its banks, and the lands that run along its length. The land along our streams and rivers is an essential and living part of the stream ecosystem.  To be healthy, a stream needs its adjacent lands to be covered with healthy, varied and native vegetation.  

Vegetated buffers provide a living cushion between our upland land uses and our living streams providing important protections to both the stream and our human communities.  Vegetated buffers help protect our communities from non-natural flooding – the soils and vegetation soak up and hold floodwaters, gently releasing them after the storm has passed. This flood protection reduces flood damages in our communities as well as minimizing the need for costly emergency response. Vegetated buffers filter out pollution, that washed from the land as well as that already in the water thereby protecting our drinking water as well as our special places for  boating, swimming, fishing and birding.  Vegetated buffers  protect and improve our local economies – they increase the market value and marketability of nearby homes; they support the qualities needed to sustain a healthy ecotourism industry, and they provide the clean and fresh water needed to support a variety of industry and waterside needs.  Vegetated buffers help encourage infiltration of rainfall and runoff helping to keep our underground aquifers flowing and available during times of drought.  Vegetated buffers protect public and private lands from erosion. And, vegetated buffers provide essential habitat, in stream and on the land, for aquatic life, birds, wildlife, amphibians and reptiles.  
When we devegetate and fill our riparian buffer areas we not only destroy their ability to provide these community benefits, but the opposite harmful reaction results — rather than flood storage we have increased flooding; rather than aquifer recharge we have increased drought; rather than healthy streamside lands and habitats we have erosion and degraded ecosystems; and so on.

It is essential we protect our vegetated buffers for the health of our streams and our communities. 

How Much of a Buffer Should Be Protected?

In general, riparian buffers should be as wide as possible.  The bigger the buffer the more pollution it can filter, the better habitat it can provide, the more water it can absorb, hold and infiltrate.  
A wealth of new science focused on buffers is taking place.  These studies are telling us that a minimum 100 foot buffer is best for protecting water quality, for preventing and removing pollution, and for protecting habitats in the stream and on the land.  In a number of instances buffers ranging from 300 to 1000 feet are being recommended, or even required, in order to provide the greatest level of protection our natural waterways and habitats need.  When focused on bird life and wildlife the buffer minimum  is tending towards 300 feet or greater.  In this case too, bigger is definitely better – providing better quality habitat and needed migration paths for a variety of wildlife.  
Also very important to the effective functioning of a riparian buffer is the quality and mix of vegetation. Characteristics such as species diversity, vegetation type, physical condition and maturity all affect the ability of the buffer to do its job. The forested buffer which includes a mix of plants, shrubs, and trees can work on steep slopes, where other vegetation, especially grass, and other BMPs may be difficult to install and maintain. 

Delaware Riverkeeper Network is working to get requirements at the state and regional level that ensure protective buffers for all streams in the watershed. We were leaders on the successful effort to get 300 foot buffer requirements for C-1 streams in NJ and 150 foot buffers on exceptional value and high quality streams in Pennsylvania.

In 2018, the Delaware Riverkeeper Netowrk released a report documenting the tremendous value of natural riparian buffers.


Villanova Univ Development — Failure to Be a Stormwater Leader


Villanova sought and secured creation of a special zoning ordinance it can avail itself of for massive new construction.

 Among the many shortcomings are that the ordinance allows increased development but does not mandate the use of best stormwater practices, best stream buffer practices, or open space preservation mandates that are connected with the level of increased imperviousness they might create.

 Ordinance 2013-21 Comprehensive Integrated College Development (CICD) allows for significant levels of imperviousness – an estimated 80% imperviousness in the case of Villanova and 45% imperviousness for colleges who may seek to build in more “green” areas of their campuses. A number of the campuses subject to the CICD have streams that run through them and will be impacted by the increased level of imperviousness – such as Eastern and Cabrini. High levels of imperviousness means high levels of runoff contributing to flooding, erosion and water pollution unless there are mandates that prevent those harms.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network fought with Friends to Preserve Radnor and others to inform the debate and offer ordinance language that would require use of best practices from the university that touts itself as a leader in stormwater management.

Our efforts were rejecred.  When Villanova finally proposed its first new development project it used standard old detention basins as it primary mode of storwmater management.  Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Friends to Preserve Radnor urged something better.  After months and months of fighting we got a little progress — not what one would expect from a university that touts itself as the nation’s stormwater leader, but it was something better than what they had orignally proposed.  

In the spring of 2016, Delaware Riverkeeper Network scientists, experts and Friends to Preser Radnor determined what seems to be a long buried stream running  under the villanova parking lot that is going to be replaced with the new development..  We are now urging VU to go that extra step and daylight the stream as part of its project.  See our letter to Villanova, the Township and DEP.

Stormwater Utility/User Fees


Stormwater User Fees and Utilities are gaining more attention as a mechanism for funding stormwater projects in communities.

Radnor Township, PA is currently considering a user fee.  
The concept of a user fee is neither supported nor opposed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network as long as the funds are used for beneficial projects and not the standards collect, detain and pipe projects of the past.

The first proposed iteration of Radnor’s ordinance failed to ensure that fees collected and credits given can be invested in projects that avoid stormwater runoff and/or that directly address the damages of runoff. The ordinance faile to include criteria for selecting and evaluating projects. And, the ordinance faile to ensure equity between residential property owners and commercial/institutional property owners in fees paid.  

Delaware Riverkeeper Network gave extensive written and verbal comment and urged others to do the same.  Below you will see a summary handout of DRN’s comments as well as two sets of comments delivered to the Township, including via testimony on 8/26/13.

The Commissioners then came around and made critical fixes to the proposal.  
The ordinance was edited to address most of DRN’s concerns including focusing the use of fees collected and credits given on prevention, avoidance and minimization of the volume, pollution and other associated harms of runoff.    Much credit was given to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network for our guidance and input.

Below find some of the comments being submitted to the committee by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network as it monitors the implementation of the program.



Radnor Township is in the process of updating its stormwater ordinance. The current ordinance continues to allow an increase in the volume of stormwater runoff that results from new development and fails to require use of new and innovative stormwater designs to reduce runoff from redevelopment projects. The Commissioners have a great opportunity to fix these inadequacies of the past when they update their ordinance. 

Radnor has recently started to circulate a set of sample edits for review and input from township committees, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network has obtained a copy and below you will find our comments on the proposal.  The suggested edits are a good step forward, but miss some key opportunities, and the key focus of volume reduction.  To see DRN’s comments and expert report:
If you want to write a comment to urge a stronger ordinance that better protect Radnor’s communities and environments see our action alert.

Since new development can increase the volume of stormwater, scientific experts and both federal and state agencies support preventing and reducing the volume of stormwater runoff as among the most effective strategies for protecting communities from flooding. By reducing runoff volume, these strategies prevent the stormwater that otherwise causes or contributes to flooding. Stormwater strategies that reduce runoff volume also reduce runoff velocity and pollution. As a result, they provide protection to our properties, bridges and roadways from erosion; protect our creeks from pollution which helps reduce the cost of complying with state and federal laws, and make our creeks safer places for kids to visit, fish and play. 

By contrast, standard detention basins, the method of stormwater management largely used today, are merely designed to collect runoff and not reduce it. This out-dated engineering only ensures that nearly every drop collected in those basins flows to the creek where it continues to cause or exacerbate flood damages. It is important that the new stormwater ordinance in Radnor secure best practices based on current science and experience and not allow continued use of past practices known to increase the harms of flooding, pollution and erosion.

In addition, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network is active in watchdogging the stormwater advisory committee operating in Radnor and charged with making recommendations for how to invest the stormwater fee collective.  Our most recent comment can also be found below.

Hamilton Twp Legal Action-Christopher Estates Project


Save Hamilton Open Space’s (SHOS) filed suit against Hamilton Township (Mercer County) for approving the Christopher Estates residential development that failed to meet basic stormwater requirements, like having a functioning stormwater basin. DRN joined the suit as an amicus curiae. DRN helped argue against the Township’s motion to dismiss the action and was instrumental in brokering a settlement among the parties. The case has settled with Hamilton Township promising to implement a compliant stormwater management system, fund a $75,000 supplemental environmental project for the betterment of the Township, and pay plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.

Along with SHOS, DRN is reviewing the proposed stormwater management plan and working with the Township to development an appropriate supplemental environmental project that will improve water quality and minimize flooding in the Township

NYC Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD) – Watershed Protection Program


New York City has one of the few unfiltered water supplies in the nation. That is how healthy our Delaware River water is – it is unfiltered and still clean and healthy to drink.  

Pursuant to state and federal law, surface water supplies must be filtered unless they can meet a strict set of standards that allow the avoidance of filtration. The Delaware River water that is served to New York City meets those strict standards. 

In July, 2017,  New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (NYDEP) proposed the most recent version of the Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD) program it needs approved in order to continue its ability to serve unfiltered drinking water to City residents and visitors. NYC’s Watershed Protection Program and FADs have ensured a nationally recognized effort that has protected not just New York City’s primary water supply but that has provided unrivaled protection to the water quality of the Delaware River’s headwater streams and preserved thousands of acres of critical watershed lands and riparian areas in the Catskills. It is important that this program continue on its current watershed protection trajectory and that it not be subverted for political or other purposes that would diminish the quality of the program and therefore the quality of the additional and ongoing protection given to the Delaware River and, in turn, all communities that live downstream.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network has been active on reviewing and comment on the most recently proposed FAD, dated July 2017, because protecting the headwaters of the Delaware River for New York City also ensures the quality of the River is protected for all those who live and benefit from the Delaware River downstream.

North Wayne Park Detention Basic Proposal


Since at least 2014, Radnor Township has been proposing to construction a new detention basin in North Wayne Park, Radnor Township, PA as a solution to downstream flooding.  While there exists a small basin on a portion of the property, disrepair has prevented it from functioning as needed.  In response, rather than propose repairing the basin and addressing the root cause of flooding in North Wayne (i.e. inappropriate stormwater management and development in the township), the Commissioners have been considering a variety of proposals that would utilize almost the entire N. Wayne field/park for a new, bigger detention system.  The Delaware Riverkeeper Network has been challenging this proposal, seeking preservation of the park as open space and instead urging the township to seek solutions that will reduce the volume of stormwater which is the root cause of the flooding problem.  

At a September 11, 2017 Commissioners meeting a resolution was advanced that focused on repairing the current detention system and committing funds to seek other solutions to address the volume of water that is the source of the flooding problems for the north wayne community.  This is a dramatic change of direction for the Township and a huge step towards a meaningful solution that both preserves the park and will address flooding problems in North Wayne.

Through this work, we have also gotten the township to reflect more fully on its stormwater ordinance and to finally see the connection between a strong ordinance, compliance with the law and a better way forward for addressing both flooding and pollution in the township. There is still work to be done but we are definitely achieving progress.

It has been several years now and the project has not progressed, we are presuming success, at least for now.

Basic Facts and History on the N. Wayne Expanded Basin Proposal:

According public statements and documents, construction of a new detention system that spanned the Park would provide only “incremental” improvements/benefits for flooding and water quality protection.; it is unclear what is meant by “incremental improvement”. The level of reduction in actual flood damages, and the kind of damages that would be reduced, including to what degree, has not been provided. The project proposed would have required at least “partial waivers from infiltration, water quality and stream bank erosion permit requirements.” The proposal included providing fencing around portions of the park and would necessitate movement of park play and field amenities.

The North Wayne Park is part of the Gulph Creek watershed. Gulph Creek is a tributary to the Schuylkill River which is a tributary to the Delaware River.  At Poplar Avenue, the drainage area to the North Wayne Park is approximately 8% of the Gulph Creek Watershed. Only water from that area would be controlled by the proposed expanded detention system. (Total drainage area to North Wayne Park is approximately 600 acres. The area that drains to the park is 46.58 acres.) The design engineer for the expanded detention basin proposal stated that the proposal should be considered only an “incremental improvement” for flooding issues. (3/28/14 Project Summary & 5/6/2014 powerpoint).

The North Wayne Park is owned by the Radnor Township School District.  The School District never agreed to the expanded basin proposal.  The park is heavily used by the school district and surrounding community for sports and recreation.  The North Wayne Park is open for public use and is enjoyed by residents and organized sports throughout the year.  The School District Facilities Committee was only approached about the proposed project  after the Township invested significant resources in developing the original project plans. 

There currently exists a detention system at the North Wayne Park.  The system is in need of repair.

The 5 solutions originally considered by the Township’s engineer, CVE,  were all focused on a detention system at the North Wayne Field and according to a 5/6/2014 power point “Due to space limitation none of the options can meet current water quality regulations and will require partial waivers from infiltration, water quality and stream bank erosion permit requirements.” 

Projects at the AT&T site, at an auxiliary parking area, a series of mini systems distributed, bioretention at the southerly parking lot, potential work at the church of the savior were given some level of consideration but are not part of the proposed solution. 

A more comprehensive solution including stream restoration, proposed wetlands, structural buyouts was noted on a 5/6/2014 powerpoint with no information on incremental costs and benefits for partial implementation to take place over time, only a total cost of $58 mil suggested.

Merchant Hydro-Nockamixon Pumped Storage Project


January 11, 2017, Merchant Hydro Developers, LLC (Merchant Hydro) filed an application with FERC to study the feasibility of a proposed pumped storage hydroelectric project they call Nockamixon Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project, FERC Project No. 14816-000.  

The project includes:

  1. a new upper reservoir with a surface area of 150 acres
  2. a lower reservoir using the existing Delaware Canal
  3. a new 3,575 foot long, 48 inch diameter penstock connecting the two reservoirs
  4. a new 150 foot long and 50 foot wide powerhouse containing 2 turbine genrator units with a total of 125 megawatts of capacity
  5. a new tranmission line connecting the powerhouse to a nearby electric grid interconnection point
  6. appurtenant facilities.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is concerned about a number of aspects of this project including the 150 acres that would be flooded for the upper reservoir and is mainly in forest.  We also have concerns about impacts to wetlands, water quality and species.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network appears to be the only organization that timely intervened in the FERC docket for this project.

FERC issued the requested preliminary permit on September 1, 2017 allowing Merchant Hydro to begin to assess the feasibility of its proposed project.

Philadelphia Inquirer article discusses the project:  Tilting at Windmills? June 16, 2017.

Merchant Hydro Vandling Drift Reclamation Pump Storage Project


On March 5, 2018, Merchant Hydro Developers, LLC filed a Declaration of Intention with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the proposed Vandling Drift Reclamation Pump Storage Project, FERC Docket No:  DI18-3-000.  The project would be located near the City of Vandling, in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.  The Notice of Declaration of Intention and Soliciting Comments, Protests and Motions to Intervene was posted on March 29, 2018.  The Delaware Riverkeeper Network submitted a Motion to Intervene so we can be active participants in the public process.

Merchant Hydro has described the project in its FERC filing as follows:

“The proposed closed-loop Vandling Drift Reclamation Pump Storage Project would consist of:  (1) a new upper reservoir with a surface area of 300 acres and a storage capacity of 4,500 acre-feet at a surface elevation of approximately 2,000 feet above mean sea level (msl) created through construction of a new roller-compacted concrete or rock-fill dam; (2) a new lower reservoir with a surface area of 140 acres and a storage capacity of 5,526 acre-feet at a surface elevation of 1,475 feet msl; (3) four new 4,425-foot-long, 16-foot-diameter penstocks connecting the upper and lower reservoirs; (4) a new 250-foot-long, 150-foot-wide, 50-foot-high powerhouse containing one or two turbine-generator units with a total rated capacity of 200 megawatts; (5) a new transmission line connecting the powerhouse to a nearby electric grid interconnection pint with options to evaluate multiple grid interconnection locations; and (6) appurtenant facilities.  Merchant Hydro Developers LLC states that it will use only groundwater from an underground abandoned mine to initially charge and seasonally refill the upper reservoirs.  The applicant proposes to transport groundwater to its upper reservoirs using underground pumping equipment and intakes.  The applicant also states the project effectuates an interconnection line without crossing the Lackawanna River or any other body of water. ” 

Bus Terminal, Parking Garage, Commercial and Condominium Development


The Federal Transit Administration decided to partially fund a 12-story bus terminal, parking garage, commercial and condominium development in the floodplain of the Delaware River in the Easton, PA historic district. DRN filed suit claiming violations of NEPA and E.O. 11988 (limitations on floodplain development). In response, FTA revoked its categorical exclusion from NEPA determination and has begun to prepare an environmental assessment but the local agency constructing the project has asserted that it can move forward with construction without federal funds, which would be used later to reimburse the costs of construction. Motion for preliminary injunction was filed and a hearing was held December 13, 2007; a decision is still awaited. Additionally, DRN has submitted substantial comments and documentation demonstrating the gross inadequacy of the draft EA, which eliminates from consideration all alternative locations.