Protecting White Clay Creek

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts Congressman, Pennsylvania 16th District
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Spanning the border of Pennsylvania and Delaware lies 107 square miles of streams and creeks that comprise the White Clay Creek watershed. The watershed is rich with plant and wildlife. When my son was growing up, the two of us would fish for trout in one of the many tributaries of White Clay Creek.

Over 100,000 people call this area home. To protect and preserve the creek, I introduced legislation to designate the watershed under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This bill was signed into law in 2000, and for the past ten now the federal government has worked with local communities to preserve White Clay Creek.

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by act of Congress in 1968 and currently protects 156 rivers across the United States. A designated river does not have the same level of protection as a National Park or Wilderness Area. Instead, the designation focuses on preserving the character of the river rather than prohibiting development on land adjacent to the river.

Initially, the Wild and Scenic Rivers designation was used to protect sections that have not been dammed. More recently however, the designation has been used to remove dams and restore the natural flow of waterways in the more developed Northeast.

In the case of the White Clay Creek, the 2000 legislation protected most of the watershed. This marked the first time that the legislation had been used to protect a watershed, not just one distinct waterway.

White Clay Creek is home to an abundance of wildlife. All told, there are 33 species of small mammals, 21 species of fish, and 27 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 90 species of breeding birds living in the watershed. Additionally, White Clay Creek is a major trout fishing stream that is stocked with both rainbow and brown trout.

Archaeologists estimate that people have been living in the watershed for thousands of years. The first European settlements were established by the Dutch and Swedes as early as 1625. Today, the watershed encompasses 38 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The aquifer that runs below the creek is an important source of drinking water for our community. Over 128,000 residents of Pennsylvania and Delaware count on the White Clay for fresh, clean water.

Now there is an opportunity to expand the areas of the watershed protected by the Wild and Scenic designation. Just this week, I introduced H.R. 5813, the White Clay Wild and Scenic River Expansion Act. The additional sections protected in the new bill include 7.4 stream miles in New Garden Township and 1.6 miles in Delaware. With these additions, nearly 200 miles of streams in the watershed would be protected.

New Garden Township was reluctant to include this section of the watershed in 2000. After seeing local communities benefit from the designation, New Garden asked that this additional section of stream come under the protection of Wild and Scenic Rivers.

I introduced this bill with the support of Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) and Sen. Edward Kaufman (D-DE) has introduced companion legislation in the Senate. In addition, the Senate legislation also has the support of Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). There’s strong bipartisan support for protecting more of White Clay Creek.

White Clay Creek is a beautiful natural resource worthy of protection. I’m glad that we can expand the boundaries of the Wild and Scenic Rivers designation. By protecting the creek, we can ensure that generations of sons and daughters will grow up fishing, boating and watching wildlife along the banks of the White Clay Creek and its many connected streams.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R) represents Pennsylvania’s 16th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.