The Delaware Canal is under the stewardship of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) which has struggled with increasingly severe weather impacts and decreasing budgets to maintain what has largely been considered simply a recreation and historic resource

The expanded concept advanced by Delaware Canal 21 (and endorsed by DCNR) is that the Canal is more properly viewed as a regional environmental resource, with its original and future reasons for being based on the stewardship and management of water.

The Canal is both a diversion and a tributary of the Delaware River system.  Major intakes from the Lehigh River in Easton and from the Delaware River in New Hope feed the waterway.  The Canal flows back into the Delaware River through an outlet at Bristol.  But in addition, approximately 40,000 acres of watershed flow directly from local creeks into the Canal. 

The implications are vivid:  The Delaware Canal has existed for more than 180 years as a “stealth watershed” of the Delaware River. 

The Canal now is being reconsidered in a full environmental light. The public meetings of the William Penn-funded Visioning Study have provided resounding support for keeping the Canal watered for its entire length.  But the costs of that public aspiration must be borne by a larger pool of resources than the Delaware Canal State Park’s share of the annual Pennsylvania state parks budget. 

The Vision Study was the first step in identifying public priorities and creative ideas how these challenges might be solved. The next step will be specific feasibility studies to estimate the cost of the identified needs and wants, and to identify and recommend ways to pay for such costs.  Subsequently there will be early implementation partnership projects with DCNR.

It is important for the public to work together to collectively envision the breadth of existing and potential vital environmental services delivered to adjacent communities and the region by a watered Delaware Canal, including:

  • flood protection

  • storm water management

  • aquatic habitat

  • water quality

  • water supply

  • potential hydropower

  • fire-fighting resource, and

  • sport fishing.

All these water-related functions bear directly on how the Delaware Canal is managed and elevate its significance beyond the important bucolic, and quaint waterside recreation trail, historic urban greenway, and visitor/tourism destination that it certainly is along its 60-mile length.

In the end, a watered Delaware Canal -- the region’s “stealth watershed” -- is as important an environmental asset as the Delaware River itself.

(adopted September 2015; rev'd 3/16)  

Banner image courtesy of Ian Kindle