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July 25, 2016
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Hidden Treasures of the Delaware

This beautiful green-rayed specimen of an eastern elliptio mussel exhibits a color variation found in some juveniles from the Delaware and Neversink Rivers. Eastern elliptios make up the greatest animal biomass in the Delaware, and are the only mussel species here with consensus on their conservation status being “Secure.”
Photo by Erik Silldorff, DRBC

In contrast, the numerous dams that exclude American eels from the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River have kept much of its aging population (some live over 100 years) of freshwater mussels from reproducing (and in decline), water quality is not all that it could be, excess nutrients and sediments are being flushed to Chesapeake Bay, and hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars are spent annually in an effort to clean up significant water quality problems there. Today’s Chesapeake Bay has about 1% of the oysters it had historically. Those historic oyster populations could filter the entire volume of water in that vast bay in four days. If we’d done enough to sustain them, this natural capital would still be able to provide their numerous valuable ecosystem services, for free.

The Delaware River is unique in that originates from a drainage that is relatively undeveloped, an upper basin that is still over 80% forested, and a landscape that retains its ability to produce clean water. It is the Delaware’s high-quality water, complemented by diverse habitats and connectivity with its floodplain, a complex food web, and an absence of dams on the main stem, that enables the superb aquatic resources we have here to flourish. These resources, such as freshwater mussels, in turn provide a positive feedback mechanism that further improves habitat and water quality and extends this water quality downriver for ecosystem, drinking water, industrial and other human needs.

In the face of now certain climate change, this Delaware River, because of all these features, will fare better than most rivers in their ability to continue to produce high-quality water, which will become an even more precious, and absolutely essential, resource for human and ecosystem needs into the future