RESTORING AN URBAN WATERSHED: A River Runs Through It … Again

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WATER Commissioner Howard Neukrug cuts ribbon at historic “daylighting” restoration of W. Branch Indian Creek in Morris Park, which had been buried in sewer for 86 years. Congressman Bob Brady, 2nd from left, Overbrook Park native, obtained Army Corps of Engineers project support.

WATER Commissioner Howard Neukrug cuts ribbon at historic “daylighting” restoration of W. Branch Indian Creek in Morris Park, which had been buried in sewer for 86 years. Congressman Bob Brady, 2nd from left, Overbrook Park native, obtained Army Corps of Engineers project support.

BY TONY WEST/ History was made in Overbrook this year when a stream that had lain buried, polluted with sewage, for 86 years was brought back to daylight – and life.

One-third of a mile of the West Branch of Indian Creek running through Morris Park has been restored after a yearlong effort by the Philadelphia Water Dept. and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

 
FREE STREAM once more, W. Branch gurgles over brand-new rapids as part of 750 feet of new channel.

FREE STREAM once more, W. Branch gurgles over brand-new rapids as part of 750 feet of new channel.

The lower end of this stretch involved cutting a new surface channel for the stream, separating it from a combined stormwater-sewage line; the upper end involved reconstruction of a wetland meadow that is part of Papa Playground. New trees and grasses have been planted to create a natural stream ecosystem.

“This is the first time in Philadelphia that an urban stream has been ‘daylighted,’” said Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug, “and one of the few times anywhere in the world.

This project was part of PWD’s “Green City, Clean Waters” program, which aims gradually to replace as much of the city’s antiquated combined sewers as possible. Its innovative approaches have earned worldwide attention in water-management circles. The Indian Creek daylighting will reduce the discharge of combined sewer overflows (sewage diluted with stormwater) by an average of 1.7 million gallons a year from Cobbs Creek and the Delaware River, Neukrug said.

Essential to this $750,000 project was the determined lobbying of Congressman Bob Brady (D-Phila.), who has lived in Overbrook all his life. “I walked through Morris Park four times a day for eight years growing up,” he said. Funding was provided by Congress.

4th Dist. Councilman Curtis Jones, who negotiated city support for the daylighting project, said research shows neighbors’ property values will go up as a result of the park’s improvement.

PREPARING to shovel is State Rep. Louise Bishop as Councilman Curtis Jones steadies newly planted tree – part of restoration for new creek channel in background.

PREPARING to shovel is State Rep. Louise Bishop as Councilman Curtis Jones steadies newly planted tree – part of restoration for new creek channel in background.

“When I moved here, I kept asking, ‘This is Overbrook – where are all the brooks?’”Jerome Chavez of the Overbrook Environmental Center said. The restored stream will serve a new generation of students and neighbors, he affirmed.

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