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October 24, 2016
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Hidden Treasures of the Delaware

Mussels contribute to water quality and clarity through their filtering capacity. Clear water in the righthand tank containing mussels after less than an hour as compared to the original turbid water in the lefthand tank.
Photo by Jacob Rash, Virginia Tech

The Delaware River possesses a super-efficient “operating system,” which has an extraordinary ability to produce clean water and benefit numerous life forms, including ourselves. Such a system is not something we could easily or inexpensively re-engineer. Its wondrous function is largely influenced by simple mollusks that have been at work here in the Delaware for perhaps the past 15,000 years, since the river settled into its present form following the retreat of glaciers after the last ice age. They don’t require a lot to survive. A landscape and stream network that sends them relatively clean, cool, well-oxygenated water that is free of pollutants and an overabundance of sediment, and that provides adequate food material and connectivity with their fish hosts will do just fine. We would do well to maintain conditions that will keep their populations healthy here, ensuring that the yeoman’s work they do, gratis, for the river and all its stakeholders, continues into the future.

[Don Hamilton is the Chief of Resource Management for the National Park Service’s Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.]