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Making Waves: 4th Annual Floatopia encourages locals to embrace the Delaware River
Water

Making Waves: 4th Annual Floatopia encourages locals to embrace the Delaware River

As temperatures heat up, these advocates raise awareness to keep the river clean and accessible.

During hot summer months, nothing is as refreshing as a dip in the water. However, it hasn’t been as simple for city dwellers as jumping on a paddleboard and going.

The Delaware River flowing through Philadelphia and Camden has a reputation for being unsanitary. Local organizations have been trying to change that by making the Delaware River and its tributaries safe enough to swim.

Floatopia 2023
Photo by Upstream Alliance

Saturday, July 15th, was the fourth annual Floatopia, an event in Camden that encouraged the local community to try out the water.  About 30 people gathered with tubes and kayaks to float out on the Delaware River section connecting to Cooper River. Pyne Point Park in Camden is a popular launch spot for organized kayaking and canoeing, but for many who grew up in the area, there is little trust in how safe the water is.

Don Baugh, the CEO of the Upstream Alliance, says that the Delaware River has come a long way since the implementation of the Clean Water Act. “The river is a poster child for restoration. For years, 40% of it was raw sewage, but that has been almost eliminated, except for combined sewer overflows.”

The major culprit, Baugh explains, comes from the Philadelphia side. He says, “I really applaud the CCMUA for the work they’ve done, but there’s still room for more.” With more work, he hopes that the water quality isn’t as dependent on the weather. He explains that bacteria levels in the river are impacted by heavy rain. Stormwater causes an overflow of chemicals and sewage into waterways, and most of toxic waste comes from industry and needs to be managed, either through enforcing pretreatments or ensuring runoff doesn’t go into sensitive areas.

Floatopia sign
Photo: Tonya Russell

Organizers, along with local officials, hoped that Floatopia would be a positive introduction that could shift attitudes. Camden’s own mayor Vic Carstarphson attended, and his daughter even joined the party on the river. About thirty people gathered, and even some locals reluctantly jumped on rubber duckies and unicorns and floated out with the group.

Floatopia is in its fourth year, and Tim Dillingam, the Executive Director of the American Littoral Society, feels that the efforts to bring awareness are working. Without enough focus on local cleanups, “broken relationships” with the environment have been formed. He says that systemic racism has cut off communities in the southern parts of the Delaware. Long-time residents have always held negative beliefs about the river, but they are finally starting to overcome the river’s history. “We’re seeing an organic return to people fishing in the Philly side,” he says. “People are out here jumping in the river, jet skiing.”

Floatopia 2023
Photo: Upstream Alliance

We’ve been cut off from it for too long.”

Stephanie Wein, PennEnvironment

What we’re beginning to see on the Delaware, Stephanie Wein has seen for years in other cities like Madison, Wisconsin and Richmond. The water and conservation advocate for PennEnvironment wants to see a community-friendly river for Philly and suburban residents.

“It is not beyond us to have that kind of relationship with the river here,” said Wein. “We have to do the policy work to keep cleaning up the river and ensure we have more clean days. We’ve been cut off from it for too long.”

Floatopia

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Cover Photo by Tonya Russell


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Tonya Russell covers mental health, culture, and wellness. She is an avid runner, yogi, and traveler, and she resides in the Philadelphia area with her four fur babies and fiancé. Follow her on Instagram (@_ajourneytofit_) and Twitter (@thetonyarussell). View all posts by Tonya Russell
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