Environmental advocates, scientists want federal protection for Red Clay, Brandywine, creeks in northern Delaware

The University of Delaware and others are proposing that Brandywine Creek and Red Clay Creek join the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Brandywine Creek in Wilmington. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Brandywine Creek in Wilmington. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Environmental advocates and scientists are proposing that Red Clay Creek and Brandywine Creek in northern Delaware receive a federal designation that would ensure their protection.

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, created by Congress in 1968, aims to preserve certain rivers and streams that have scenic, recreational, geological, or other qualities.

The program protects more than 13,400 miles of rivers and streams in the U.S., but the only Delaware waterway to receive the designation is White Clay Creek. White Clay, has benefitted from the program for more than 20 years, and the longest national wild and scenic river east of the Mississippi River.

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The University of Delaware Water Resources Center and the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed believe Red Clay Creek and Brandywine Creek also are solid candidates for the designation.

Gerald Kaufman, director of UD’s Water Resources Center says the designation would raise “the visibility of these streams, which are very important for Delaware, to the highest level of protection, even more than the Clean Water Act protects.”

Red Clay Creek is a 12.7-mile-long tributary of White Clay Creek that runs through southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. Brandywine Creek is a tributary of the Christina River in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware, and is known for recreational activities like fishing and kayaking. The streams and wells in the Brandywine River, Red Clay Creek, White Clay Creek, and Christina River watersheds combine to provide three quarters of Delaware’s drinking water.

The National Park Service’s Paul Kenney said residents should be interested in protecting their watersheds.

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“If they want clean water and they’re interested in protecting the clean water that flows through their communities and protecting the resources related to the water, cultural resources included, then it’s something that certainly the folks we work with up until now really appreciate it,” he said.

The process of getting a waterway in the Wild and Scenic program is quite lengthy. First, a waterway must meet certain standards, such as the potential for recreation, a healthy fish habitat, and a lush scenery. Designation also must be supported by stakeholders and the community.

Then, the National Park Service studies the waterway, and provides a report to Congress, either recommending a designation — or not. Congress must then pass legislation in order for the waterway to be entered into the program.

Once a river or stream is part of the National Wild and Scenic program, funding can be leveraged for projects that improve water quality, conserve wetlands and open space, protect and plant native species, and create opportunities for recreation.

“It elevates the status of the waterway, which can help bring in grant funding and other pots of money to do projects that not just benefit the watershed, but benefit everybody who lives in it or uses it, whether it’s for recreation or drinking water,” said Shane Morgan, the program director of the White Clay Wild and Scenic River program.

The University of Delaware’s Kauffman said it could take about two years for Brandywine and Red Clay Creeks to receive a designation.

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