The Schuylkill River

Overview

  • The river's watershed (the area of land that drains to the river or one of its tributaries) encompasses an area of approximately 2,000 square miles.
  • The river travels approximately 130 miles from its headwaters at Tuscarora Springs in Schuylkill County to its mouth at the Delaware River in Philadelphia.
  • The Schuylkill River has been an important source of drinking water in the region for over two centuries. Over 1.5 million people receive their drinking water from the Schuylkill River and its tributaries.
  • The Schuylkill watershed provides habitats for a variety of fish. However, numerous dams block fish passage throughout the watershed.
  • For over half of the streams considered polluted, contaminated rainwater from our streets, sidewalks and yards is the source of this pollution. Rain and melting snow collect pollutants such as leaky motor oil, pet waste, litter, and lawn chemicals from these surfaces and wash them into storm drains or directly into local waterways.
  • There are over 3,500 regulated sources of pollution in the watershed, including 78 large sewage treatment plants and many septic systems. These sources discharge wastewater into the river and its tributaries, posing threats to water quality.
  • Approximately 37% of the land in the watershed is used for agricultural purposes. Of all polluted waters in the watershed, approximately 30% are currently traced back to agricultural operations.
  • Since the 1970s, the cleanliness of the water has improved due largely to the Clean Water Act. However, over the past decade, levels of some contaminants have increased throughout the watershed due to activities such as poorly planned development (sprawl). If current trends continue, drinking water may require new types of processes to clean it, and costs to ensure that the water is potable will climb. Additionally, some contaminants present a public health risk if they become too concentrated in the source of our drinking water.
  • Growing concern for the entire watershed and an understanding how actions upstream affect conditions downstream are needed to encourage a return to the river.