What do I see crossing Delaware?

It’s a giant pink flamingo! It’s an oversized sea turtle! No it’s a floating brigade clean water crusaders.

Environmental nonprofit Upstream Alliance kicks off its third “Floatopia” event on Saturday afternoon, with attendees launching from Camden’s Pyne Point Park across from Philadelphia.

Inspired by a local organization’s event in Portland called “The big float“, the idea behind Floatopia is to raise awareness of how far Delaware has come since the days when it was able to smell her scent 5,000 feet in the air — while sending a message to city and state leaders to prioritize upgrading outdated sewer systems that dump waste into the river during storms.

People will be floating in kayaks, on inner tubes or with paddle boards all afternoon to show officials “the need and opportunity for recreation on the water” along the stretch of Delaware adjacent to Philadelphia and Camden, said Don Baugh, one of the event organizers. .

It’s what he describes as “a fun, maybe even silly event, but with a very serious message.” Said Baugh: “We’re really kind of a beach party with a purpose.”

Council member Mark Squilla (who is known for demonstrating his affinity for swimming) plans to be present at Saturday’s event. He presented A resolution to city council to explore ways the city can accelerate the search for rivers suitable for swimming.

Passed in late June, it authorized public hearings on what the Philadelphia Department of Water is “doing or could do” with federal water quality infrastructure dollars to deal with sewage overflows in Delaware and Schuylkill. He requests a written report outlining the department’s plans for projects that could improve rivers for recreational use and how they plan to obtain federal or state funds to implement those plans.

The resolution awaits a court date in October, Squilla told Billy Penn.

A cleaner waterway, but pollution seeps in when it rains

Baugh is the President and Founder of Upstream Alliance, a Maryland-based group that aims to provide “powerful water experiences to conservation leaders who can improve public access, clean water, and coastal resilience. “. The organization’s work focuses on the Delaware, Chesapeake and Hudson rivers.

Currently, nearly all of the Delaware River is considered suitable for “primary contact” recreation, that is, full water immersion that occurs during activities such as swimming. That’s to say, except for the 27 mile stretch which passes Philly, Camden and Chester.

The question of whether to update this designation and prioritize infrastructure improvements to meet more stringent water quality standards, was a topic of recent debate.

Currently, “secondary contact,” or activities like boating where water immersion or ingestion is unlikely, are considered acceptable in Philadelphia. But swimming isn’t exactly recommended — largely because Philadelphia and Camden’s old sewer and stormwater systems get submerged during heavy rains, causing bacteria-laden sewage to flow. in the river.

Delaware is actually a lot cleaner now than it has been in many years — fine to use for recreation most days, Baugh claims. It’s thanks to the Clean Water Act of 1972, he said, which turns 50 this year.

“Delaware, I think people often forget, is really the national poster child for a river that’s been restored and cleaned up,” Baugh said. “However, the work has not been done because we cannot safely swim and recreate the river 365 days a year as required by the Clean Water Act.”

Times of particular concern, Baugh said, are when it rains heavily. (The Philadelphia Water Department warns against swimming in the river also in dry weather, as elements such as debris, deep water and strong currents pose safety risks. Swimming in any of Philadelphia’s rivers or creeks is prohibited throughout the city.)

Philadelphia Water is currently 11 years in its “Green city, clean watersa 25-year effort to modernize the city’s wastewater and water treatment systems. The program implemented “green stormwater management infrastructurewhich involves installing features such as rain gardens and green roofs throughout the city to divert water from the sewer system. But the department warns there is still a risk of billions of gallons of overflows affecting local waterways.

To pave the way for a clean, year-round river, Baugh said city officials should seek federal funding to improve their sewer and stormwater systems. And given the amount of money Congress is making available to cities through laws such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, he said, this year is the perfect time to make those requests.

If you want to participate

The event takes place on the New Jersey side of the river (sorry), at Pyne Point Park in Camden. It will take place in a back channel area, where river currents are weaker and floats are unlikely to run into commercial traffic, Baugh said.

Floatopia is a BYOF event: bring your own float. It can be an inner tube, a paddle board, a canoe, a kayak or an inflatable animal.

The current Floatopia flotilla is limited to 75 participants, Baugh said, so you must RSVP to [email protected] if you wish to join. Registration is at 1 p.m. and the float starts at 2 p.m.

There’s also an afterparty and listening session at the park with food and a DJ open to everyone, Baugh said, and the organization expects more than 150 people to show up. it starts at 5 p.m.

The event has a sort of extended rain date. If there is more than a half inch of rain in the 48 hours leading up to the event, it will be moved to September 10.