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A Sail on the Delaware, a Field Lesson about Protecting Our Shared Waters

Peter Eschbach is the former Director of External Affairs and Communications for the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and directed the Our Shared Waters program during his tenure.

📷 Delaware River Basin Commission

When it comes to understanding environmental and sustainability concerns surrounding the Delaware River, there’s no better way to learn than to actually get out on the water and gain first-hand experience. That’s exactly what the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) offered to legislators in our region over the course of tours and sails this summer aboard the Kalmar Nyckel tall ship.

As I prepare to retire from the DRBC at the end of October, I wanted to share more about this rewarding experience leading the Our Shared Waters project and how these boating events exemplified the goals of our project to educate the public and decision-makers about the importance of protecting the Delaware River.

Our first event in August for legislators included a ship tour and conversations with Kalmar Nyckel’s captain in Wilmington, Delaware. As we learned, extreme heat and humidity can make sailing a challenge, and health concerns prevailed to keep us dockside. With climate change contributing to rising temperatures, it’s a stress upon the Delaware River that we all came to appreciate that day.

In September, though, conditions were just right to take Pennsylvania state Senators and Representatives, community members and local business leaders aboard the ship for a two-hour sail out of Bristol, Pennsylvania.

There’s nothing like being out on the Delaware while you’re learning about the Delaware. All aboard were able to see and experience its power and beauty while simultaneously learning from experts about the reasons why we must protect it. There’s something about that message that resonates more deeply than it ever could in a conference room or during a press conference.

For example, Rep. K.C. Tomlinson (PA-18) shared with us that she grew up on the Delaware River, boating with her dad, Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (PA-6). The Delaware River is central to her district for recreation, commerce, and sought-after waterfront residential neighborhoods.

Rep. Perry Warren (PA-31) who sailed with us knows well the beauty and power of the Delaware River. As I write this, a Nor’easter is passing through his district and flood warnings have been issued.

Our attendees got to experience hauling the sails while feeling the wind on their face, hearing the water lapping the ship and taking in breathtaking river views. Then they visited onboard stations to hear about the value of clean water. At each station, a few of our partners shared diverse perspectives about the benefit of a healthy Delaware River. These included a local brewer, a director of water quality and environmental compliance from a water utility company, a watershed director from Audubon, and they were joined by a DRBC water resource scientist and the DRBC’s deputy executive director.

Clean safe drinking water also is a priority for Sen. Art Haywood (PA-4), as parts of his Philadelphia district have been impacted by PFOA and PFOS contamination. Sen. Haywood has sponsored legislation to reduce the levels of these contaminants in our drinking water to protect the health of his constituents and says, “we all need to drink clean water.”

This unique sail experience served as not only a learning experience, but a bonding one for everyone aboard.

Rep. Mary Isaacson (PA-175) remarked during the sail that gathering with colleagues in experiential opportunities is rare and helps to find areas of common importance and value.

And really, that’s what it’s all about, connecting people to their local waterway and helping them realize they’re part of something bigger. The DRBC has been working for decades to clean up the Delaware River and get it to where it is today. But we need everyone to realize it will take a team effort to continue improving it.

While I’m proud of many initiatives from my time leading the Our Shared Waters project, these sails stand out among our successes demonstrating the role we all play in protecting our water supply. And I know that each of these sails leaves a lasting impression on everyone aboard.

I am grateful to have been one of the Delaware River Basin’s stewards over the years. Thank you for being part of our community.


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