Congress passes bill to expand protected area of White Clay Creek

Unnamed tributary (c) Iris Bellafiore

It's been a long time coming, but it's finally here. Members of the White Clay Wild and Scenic Steering Committee along with our elected officials have been working for the past six years to pass legislation that includes adding nine miles of additional stream segments, the majority residing in New Garden Township (PA), to the existing White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. First introduced in 2009 by Senator Kaufman (DE), it's been passed twice by the Senate, once in 2012, then again in 2013. Finally, in late 2014, both the House and the Senate passed the bill which will now go on to be signed into law by President Obama. Read more about this historic moment below in a press release from Senator Coons' office.

(Map of additional miles protected can be viewed here.)

*************************************************************************************************************** Congress passes Coons-Pitts bill to widen protected area of White Clay Creek

Bipartisan legislation adds sections of the watershed in Delaware and Pennsylvania to Wild and Scenic Rivers designation with no additional cost to taxpayers

WASHINGTON – The Senate on Friday passed legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.-16) to add approximately nine miles of White Clay Creek and its tributaries to the existing Wild and Scenic Rivers designation for the waterway. The measure was passed by the House of Representatives last week and now heads to President Obama for his signature. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), as well as Rep. John Carney (D-Del.-AL), are cosponsors of the White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic River Expansion Act, which comes at no cost to taxpayers.

“White Clay Creek is a gem that shines brightly in Delaware’s diverse ecosystem, and we have worked tirelessly to protect its beauty for future generations,” Senator Coons said. “When I was a child growing up in New Castle, I used to spend considerable time in the White Clay Creek watershed, and I know what a great outdoor experience is for children and families. I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for coming together in a bipartisan way to pass this piece of legislation to conserve our shared waterways and wildlife.”

“I’ve worked for many years to protect the White Clay Creek and its tributaries and I’m glad to see this bill on its way to becoming law,” Rep. Pitts said. “I’d also like to thank Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) for working in the Senate to push the bill forward. The creek runs through both our states and is an important part of our shared natural heritage.”

At no cost to federal taxpayers, this bill will expand the original designation to include approximately 9 miles of two small stream sections that were omitted from the original Wild and Scenic Rivers designation, including a 1.6-mile stretch of Lamborn Run in Delaware that was originally omitted due to its consideration as an option for a dam to supply drinking water for northern Delaware. It has since been removed from consideration and New Castle County is supportive of the addition of the section to the designation. The bill also includes a 7.4-mile stretch of stream in Pennsylvania’s New Garden Township that was originally omitted due to its consideration for a dam. That consideration has since been withdrawn and the Township is now supportive of the designation.

“This important piece of legislation will help safeguard one of Delaware’s great outdoor treasures,” Senator Carper said. “Through preserving nine miles of additional segments and tributaries, this bill helps ensure that Delawareans will continue to enjoy White Clay Creek’s natural, cultural and recreational benefits for generations to come.”

“Protecting the White Clay Creek watershed will not only help protect a vital source of drinking water for thousands of Pennsylvanians, but will also preserve historical and wildlife resources,” Senator Casey said.  “This bill will further ensure hikers, fishermen and families recreating in the watershed have a pristine environment to enjoy for years to come.”

“The White Clay Creek Watershed is more than just a source of drinking water: it contributes to ecosystem and community vitality, improving our quality of life,” Representative Carney said. “Long ago, New Castle County affirmed the value of this natural resource and resolved to cooperatively manage it with our friends in Pennsylvania. Extending the federal Wild and Scenic River designation will strengthen these collaborative efforts to help preserve the watershed for generations to come.”

“The White Clay Expansion Bill would add approximately nine miles of river segments to the already existing 190 miles protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers designation, with no associated federal cost,” Shane Morgan, the management plan coordinator for the White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic Program said. “It is a win-win for both the environment, as it provides more comprehensive protection for the watershed; and its residents, who treasure this scenic valley for it’s recreational and natural resources, and rely on it for clean drinking water.”

“This legislation completes the task of ensuring watershed-wide protection to the White Clay Creek and its tributaries,” Kevin Donnelly, the district coordinator for the New Castle County Conservation District, said. “The passage of this important legislation will provide real benefits to the nearly 100,000 people who live within the White Clay Creek Watershed by protecting the local drinking water supply for tens of thousands of people and countless businesses who live and work in the City of Newark and New Castle County; safeguarding important habitat for fish and wildlife species while preserving treasured historic sites and scenic vistas throughout the 69,000 acre watershed; and boosting the local economy by attracting visitors to the watershed and providing jobs for the employees of companies whose businesses depend on the health and vitality of a free flowing and high quality White Clay Creek.”

In 2000, Congress designated a large majority of White Clay Creek and its tributaries as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Then-Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) was the lead sponsor for the Senate bill and Representative Mike Castle (R-Del.-AL) was the lead sponsor for the House version. This marked the first time a whole watershed, rather than individual river segments, had been designated into the system. A 2009 proposal to expand the designation was led by former Senator Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) in the Senate and Representative Pitts in the House. It passed the Senate in 2011 in 2013, but failed to clear the House of Representatives until last week.

The 69,000-acre White Clay Creek watershed is home to 33 species of mammals, 21 species of fish, 27 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 90 species of birds. White Clay Creek is also stocked with brown and rainbow trout and is an important resource for fishermen. Protected land in the watershed provides recreational opportunities for hikers, bikers, birders, hunters, and others. White Clay Creek and the Cockeysville aquifer that lies beneath portions of the watershed are important sources of drinking water for over 128,000 citizens in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The bill is supported by the White Clay Creek Watershed Management Committee, which is comprised of 40 local, state, and federal agency representatives, as well as organizations and businesses. Among its members is the National Park Service, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, New Castle County Department of Land Use, London Britain Township, United Water Delaware, White Clay Outfitters, the Brandywine Conservancy, the Delaware Ornithological Society, Stroud Water Research Center, Chester County Planning Division, and SE Regional Office Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.