study area the white clay watershed

Because the watershed is embedded into the fabric of its surroundings, and because it is subject to influences from every precinct of its setting, the watershed would not be wisely managed through the use of traditional Wild and Scenic River strategies that concentrate on a narrow corridor bracketing bed and banks. A study area shaped by corridors simply tracing the watershed's major tributaries would not encourage the devising of management strategies well suited to protecting a fragile and intricate headwater ecosystem. This sensitive aquatic environment needs a broader approach, one that considers its complex network of streambeds and diverse settings as a coherent system.

A headwater watershed typically consists of a dense network of very small perennial and nonperennial streams. More than 54% of the White Clay Creek watershed is made up of these "first order, or smallest-category streams. Most first-order streams are only a few feet wide and carry small volumes of water.

Because their low volumes lack the capacity to dilute pollutants, small headwater streams are very susceptible to nonpoint-source contamination. They can also be unbalanced dramatically by changes in surrounding land uses. Even apparently insignificant shifts in use can cause severe fluctuations in temperature, nutrient composition, and ultimately the biodiversity of headwater streams.

Recognizing the factors that distinguish this watershed, Congress directed the National Park Service to consider the entire White Clay Creek watershed when devising a management plan. This comprehensive approach allowed inventory, analysis and recommendations that address all of the conditions and potential threats that face this complex, sensitive and influential river system.