UPPER GWYNEDD — A $1.4 million initiative five years in the making aimed at improving a stretch of the Wissahickon Creek wrapped up this fall.
“We’re hoping that this will have really positive and cumulative impacts downstream. It was a great opportunity,” said Lindsay Blanton, Wissahickon Trails’ water programs manager.
The Wissahickon Headwaters Stream and Riparian Restoration Project covered 1,775 linear feet of the Wissahickon Creek, according to an October statement from Wissahickon Trails.
Lindsay Blanton, Wissahickon Trails’ water programs manager, underscored the existing problems surrounding stormwater runoff in suburban water sources such as the Wissahickon Creek.
“Essentially, because of the built-up nature of the watershed, and especially in the Wissahickon headwaters, every time it rains, all of that rain, instead of soaking into the ground the way it would in a natural environment, it’s running off of our streets, and sidewalks, and homes and parking lots, and it’s rushing all at once to the creek and so that creates a lot of issues with the flashiness but also in kind of flushing all these pollutants from our built surfaces into the creek,” she said.
John Ferro, Wissahickon Trails’ director of conservation, agreed.
“The Wissahickon, it’s an impaired stream, so we do need to do a lot of work on it to improve the water quality of it,” he said.
According to a spokesperson for the Montgomery County-based agency, the targeted section of the creek was turned “into an actual floodplain, which will slow down the force of the water and allow it to percolate into the ground, instead of flowing downstream.”
Additionally, there are plans to implement “flood tolerant plantings,” which are expected to “look and work as a functioning ecosystem,” according to the October statement.
“What this project will do is kind of allow that water that’s been rushing to the creek at once to spread out and slow down and kind of diffuse some of that energy so that we don’t see these massive flooding events further downstream,” Blanton said. “The more it builds up through the watershed the worse it gets down towards the bottom as it accumulates so addressing that flashiness of the headwaters we’re hoping will be really impactful.”
The project was conducted near Parkside Place and the Upper Gwynedd Township Administration Building in the PECO right of way, according to Ferro. He added it’s also close to the beginning of the Green Ribbon Trail.
As an educational tool, the nonprofit is planning to install signage to inform trailgoers of the initiative.
“It’s definitely important for people to learn about what our streams look like in these suburban/urban areas, how they are functioning and how they are supposed to function if we weren’t around and didn’t cause so many issues,” Ferro said. “So I think it’s important that people learn what a stream should look like, what a floodplain is there for and how the two are connected. Floodplains aren’t just places on the map -- they have a lot of benefits for water quality, for habitat and for biodiversity.”
A spokesperson for Wissahickon Trails said the more than $1 million venture brought funding from several partners at the national, state and local levels. They include the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, PECO, Upper Gwynedd Township, Merck & Co., and the William Penn Foundation.
“This project is a part of our plans to meet regulatory requirements for water quality in the Wissahickon Creek and we are very happy with the positive impact that it will have on our waterways,” said Upper Gwynedd Board of Commissioners President Liz McNaney in a statement.
Nancy Bednarik, director of global facilities management for Merck & Co. echoed similar sentiments.
“At Merck, we have a responsibility to use resources wisely and drive innovations that will enable development while protecting and preserving the communities in which we live and work,” Bednarik said in a statement. We were happy to contribute to the funding for the project as part of our partnership with the township, and we continue to support Wissahickon Trails through our Neighbor of Choice grant program.”
Wissahickon Trails Executive Director Gail Farmer praised the initiative and those involved who brought it to fruition.
“This kind of public/private partnership is necessary when addressing complex environmental challenges, such as stormwater,” Farmer said in a statement.” In the Wissahickon, we have local public and private partners who are committed to being a part of the solution. That is something to feel good about.”