Working for our Watersheds

DEEC aerial view of Visitor Center, Marsh Pond, and Markell Trail Loop by Maggie DeGennaro

Protecting the Source

Our waterways once flowed through a landscape dominated by vast forests, marshes, and rich wetlands. The complex network of streams and rivers crisscrossing the fertile landscape functioned as a thriving circulatory system, facilitating the flow of nutrients from upland regions and the ocean.

Settlement led to extensive land clearing to make way for communities and agriculture. Removal of the forests and wetlands, which functioned as a protective green covering, resulted in significant soil erosion and the loss of wildlife habitat. Over time development and industrialization introduced chemicals into waters. Contaminants from homes, industry, and agriculture are still entering our waters today, resulting in excess nutrients, bacteria, and sediment that contribute significantly to water quality issues.

But there’s good news. Delaware Nature Society works closely with established regional partners to reverse the harmful effects of water pollution and protect Delaware’s three important watersheds: the Delaware River watershed, Chesapeake Bay watershed, and Inland Bays watershed.

What is a watershed?

A watershed is an area of land that drains into a specific body of water. Everyone lives in a watershed and what we do on land directly impacts the quality of our waters.

The Delaware River watershed spans 330 miles and four states and provides crucial habitat to hundreds of plant and wildlife species including over 200 fish species. From its source in the Catskill Mountains of New York, the Delaware River flows downstream past rural, suburban, and urban areas throughout the mid-Atlantic region, including Philadelphia, PA, Trenton, NJ, and Wilmington, DE. More than 15 million people rely on Delaware River waterways for clean drinking water.

One-third of Delaware flows into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This land area starts in Cooperstown, NY and goes as far west as Sweet Springs, WV, spanning rural farmlands and the Baltimore-Washington, DC metropolitan area. Rivers and streams that eventually flow into the bay are the source of drinking water for 75% of the region’s 17 million residents.

Inland Bays encompass 30 square miles of shallow lagoons and 10,000 acres of marshland. This area is home to more than 112 species of finfish, 40 species of shellfish, and is vital spawning ground for horseshoe crabs. It’s of major recreational and ecological significance, playing a huge role in Delaware’s $7 billion coastal economy.

Key partners & impacts

Delaware Nature Society collaborates closely with regional partners to maximize efforts and make the biggest impact for clean water. Together we actively work to improve and protect water we rely on for drinking, recreation, wildlife and economic purposes. As one of the leading environmental organizations in the State, Delaware Nature Society represents Delaware for two regional powerhouse advocacy coalitions:

The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed unites organizations throughout the region effectively advocating for protecting and restoring the Delaware River Basin.
The Coalition achieves this by coordinating communications and actions that foster success at the federal, state, and local levels. The Coalition’s dedicated work helped to create federal legislation that created the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program resulting in millions of dollars of restoration funding.

The Choose Clean Water Coalition has been harnessing the collective power of more than 230 groups to advocate for clean rivers and streams in all of the communities in the Chesapeake Bay region since 2010. By coordinating policy, messaging, action, and accountability, the Coalition successfully secured full funding for the EPA Chesapeake Bay program in this fiscal year.

Delaware Nature Society also works closely with Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, and the University of Delaware Water Resources Center on the Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice campaign, a statewide education and outreach effort focused on securing additional clean water funding. This campaign is championed by our Clean Water Alliance, a coalition of diverse stakeholder groups including nonprofit organizations, academia, and businesses, and our Water Warriors, citizen advocates that care about water quality for future and current generations. For Fiscal Year 2019, the Campaign secured $30 million in State conservation funding: $10 million for Open Space; $10 million for Farmland Preservation; and $10 million for Clean Water.

Most recently Delaware Nature Society joined the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River funded by the William Penn Foundation. The 23 education centers in the Alliance—including our DuPont Environmental Education Center—are collectively engaging thousands of people in exploring and enjoying their local waters to become stewards of the Delaware River watershed.

Everyone has a role to play in helping maintain healthy watersheds, from reducing the amount of chemicals that we use on our lawns to participating in a tree planting or creek clean-up.

Visit to learn how you can contribute.