White Clay Creek - a National Wild and Scenic River

The White Clay Creek and its tributaries were designated into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in October 2000. As part of the designation process, a management plan was developed that describes the watershed's resources, identifies the major challenges that threaten those resources, and presents a detailed plan for management. It involves landowners; citizens; private organizations; local, county, state, and federal governments; business interests; and others in a cooperative approach to resource management and protection.  The White Clay Creek Watershed Management Committee (WCCWMC), representing all watershed stakeholders, binds these diverse interests together in common purpose.

The White Clay watershed (the land that surrounds and drains into the creek) is one of only a few relatively intact, unspoiled and ecologically functioning river systems remaining in the highly congested and developed corridor linking Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with Newark, Delaware. About 100,000 people (with a 16% increase predicted by 2020) live within its boundaries, which span almost 108 sq. miles from southeast Pennsylvania to northwest Delaware. The Chester County, Pennsylvania portion includes the East, Middle, and West branches and the top of the mainstem; the White Clay then flows into New Castle County, Delaware and is joined by Middle Run, Pike, and Mill creeks before emptying into the Christina River.

Water Facts: Normal rainfall averages 44 inches per year; the watershed includes the Cockeysville aquifer, which is an important source of drinking water and supplies continuous and relatively high base flows in the stream. The creek itself also serves as a major drinking water source for much of northern Delaware.

Land Use: The Pennsylvania portion of the watershed is largely rural with a few small towns and villages and some suburban clusters.  The Delaware portion includes the City of Newark and is characterized by suburbanization, but several very large tracts of public open space flank the river as well.

Outstanding Resources: Lime Kilns and 19th century mills; neotropical migrant birds, including the Cerulean Warbler; the federally listed endangered Bog Turtle; the most extensive mature Piedmont forests remaining in the State of Delaware; and the Cockeysville marble formations, an exceptional aquifer.

Open Space and Recreation

About 10% of the watershed is protected open space, with two-thirds of that in Delaware.  The bi-state White Clay Creek Preserve is maintained as a nature area accommodating passive recreation. The creek is the most heavily stocked trout stream and thus the most popular fly-fishing stream in Delaware. Other recreational opportunities in the watershed include hiking, jogging, bird watching, picnicking, horseback riding, biking, cross country skiing, skating, sledding, swimming, and limited deer hunting.

 Management Concerns

Urbanization along with years of agriculture in the upper watershed have contributed to both states designating more than 75% of the stream miles as “impaired.” High nutrient (nitrate and phosphates), organic, and bacterial levels currently account for much of the water quality impairment.

 Management Goals

The WCCWMC is working with our federal, state, county, and municipal agencies and our private organization partners to:  improve and conserve water quality and water quantity; conserve open space, woodlands, wetlands and geologic features; protect native plant and animal species; preserve cultural, historical and archaeological sites; enhance outdoor recreation opportunities; and encourage environmental education and outreach.


Conserve water, minimize paved surfaces; consider replacing lawn with native vegetation; limit the use toxic products outside your home and clean up spills and dispose of left-over product properly; where possible reduce stormwater runoff and encourage ground water infiltration; control soil erosion whenever you disturb the ground; support referendums to preserve open space and ordinances and legislation that will help accomplish the above management goals; AND ….