Healthy streams and rivers are the lifeblood of Pennsylvania. More than 86,000 miles of waterways meander through the commonwealth and touch nearly every Pennsylvania community.
DCNR’s Rivers Program collaborates with local organizations to restore these waterways as valued community assets for both residents and visitors to enjoy.
DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn and Agriculture Secretary Russell Reading recently joined officials from the Chesapeake Bay Commission to plant a streamside buffer in Lancaster County.
It has only been one generation since waterways across the state were contaminated with industrial waste, chemicals, and other pollutants to the point that rivers were on fire and devoid of aquatic life.
The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, put in place regulations to limit pollution and water quality standards to begin the process of restoring waterways nationwide.
DCNR’s Rivers Program contributes to restoring waterways with funding and technical assistance to help local watershed organizations and communities achieve their restoration goals.
From nutrient and sediment reduction, to small dam removal, to in-stream and streamside habitat improvements, Community Conservation Partnerships Program Grants provide statewide support for watershed restoration.
DCNR also is an active partner in streamside tree plantings. These riparian forest buffers improve water quality and provide habitat for both land and water species.
During the last five years, DCNR has awarded $8.6 million to organizations to plant buffers -- increasing Pennsylvania’s climate resiliency and helping to clean waterways.
Through federal laws and local action, Pennsylvania communities have come a long way from the days of dead rivers. Today, diverse plant and wildlife communities thrive both in and along commonwealth waterways.
Improving Recreational Water Access
A DCNR rivers grant helped construct a new public boat dock in Bartram’s Garden in southwest Philadelphia, increasing public fishing and boating access to the Schuylkill River.
DCNR staff and grant programs are also working to advance a statewide goal of providing public recreational access to water within a 10-minute drive of every Pennsylvanian.
This work includes building new fishing and boating facilities and maintaining current access points.
It also includes using advanced mapping analyses to find areas in greatest need of more fishing and boating access.
DCNR staff provide technical assistance for communities looking to improve water recreation assets.
They convene regional partners, leverage state and federal funding sources, and work side by side with fellow state agencies -- like the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission -- to advance river access and conservation across the commonwealth.
During the past five years, DCNR has awarded 126 grants totaling over $16 million to local organizations to support Pennsylvania waterways. Grant recipients have restored creeks, added fishing and boating access, and planted streamside trees.
Celebrating Local Waterways
A river sojourn on the West Branch Susquehanna River.
DCNR is involved in a variety of programs to raise awareness about water resources, promote outdoor recreation, provide safety education, and encourage watershed stewardship.
Local watershed organizations receive support and networking opportunities through DCNR’s work with the Pennsylvania Organization of Watersheds and Rivers.
About $25,000 is awarded annually to partner organizations to support river sojourns in Pennsylvania. Joining one of these guided paddling trips is a great way to learn more about kayaking, as well as the unique aspects of the waterways where they take place.
DCNR also works with partners to name the River of the Year and support a network of Pennsylvania Water Trail Managers.
In 2022, French Creek in northwest Pennsylvania was named River of the Year. This waterway is one of the most biologically diverse waterways of its size in the U.S. It’s home to, among other species:
- 27 species of freshwater mussels
- More than 80 species of fish
- The Eastern Hellbender (the official amphibian of Pennsylvania)
- Four Audubon-designated Important Bird Areas
A sojourn on Saturday, June 11, 2022 will celebrate French Creek’s River of the Year designation.
Joining the Cause
Restoring and protecting waterways is a forever business. It’s also both a community and individual effort. One way to get involved is to join Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful’s Waterway Stewards Program (PDF).
Members of this program commit to collecting and disposing of litter along and within waterways to help keep Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams as the valuable community assets and recreation destinations they are.