University of Delaware
Gerald Kauffman

State of Delaware Estuary

Kauffman contributes to report by Partnership for the Delaware Estuary


7:50 a.m., Sept. 14, 2012--Gerald Kauffman, director of University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency, joined a group of local scientists to author a report on the Delaware Estuary that delivered both promising and cautionary news. 

While the Delaware River and Bay continue to recover from the devastating effects of pollution, many species that inhabit the water are in danger, the report states.

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The “State of the Estuary Report” was released by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary on Sept. 6 in Wilmington. Last released in 2008, it assesses many factors that contribute to the health of the estuary, such as the species that inhabit the water, the surrounding land areas and the effects of local human population. 

An economic engine

Kauffman researched and wrote a section of the report looking at the economic impact the estuary has on coastal Delaware, southern New Jersey and southeast Pennsylvania. 

“The estuary generates $10-12 billion dollars annually, provides clean water, jobs and powers the economy,” says Kauffman. 

Kauffman said he would like to see a “major economic investment” put into the tidal Delaware River, Delaware Bay and tributaries in the form of public-private infrastructure projects such as water treatment plants, agricultural conservation, reforestation and wetland restoration. 

Population growth

The state of the estuary report also takes a close look at how the ever-expanding human population in the tri-state region impacts the waters of the estuary. 

Kauffman says that despite a one-half million population increase in the region since the early 2000s, the overall quality of the water has improved from 40-50 years ago. 

“Even with the increase in the population growth, water quality has improved. One reason is the Clean Water Act. The act makes sure that fish can live in the estuary and surrounding waters and eventually aims to make the water swimmable for humans, but it’s not swimmable yet,” says Kauffman.

Not all creatures native to the river and its tributaries find the water swimmable. Increasing temperatures have triggered lower oxygen levels, causing trouble for oysters, Atlantic sturgeon and many other species.

Kauffman says there are steps that citizens of the Delaware Estuary area can take to aid the recovery of the river and tributaries. 

“There are individual things that people can take responsibility for as well, such as not watering our lawns too much, not fertilizing our yards,” says Kauffman. 

A University effort

Several UD students joined Kauffman in researching the estuary. Civil engineering students helped with mapping and testing water quality while public policy students studied the economy of the estuary. Environmental science and natural resource management students were involved in the project, as well.

“UD students conducted high-level research to prepare this report card on the Delaware Estuary,” says Kauffman. “Many of the students went to high school in the watershed in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and learned where their drinking water comes from. In the end they picked up real work experience that will help them get important jobs in the environmental field.”

WRA is a program unit of the Institute for Public Administration in UD’s School of Public Policy and Administration.

Article by Kelley Bregenzer

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