Category Archives: Water

West Chester’s Adopt-a-Rain Garden Program: please help!

Rain gardens are important and so is your help! Short version: please sign up here.

West Chester Borough, like many other municipalities, is under federal mandate to improve the quality of its streams. But how can we reduce pollutants flowing into them?

Rain gardens absorb those pollutants (chemicals running off yards, road salt, dog waste effluents, microparticles from vehicle tires, etc.) and by the time the ground water runs into streams, the contaminants are stuck somewhere underground or absorbed harmlessly into roots, plants, and tree trunks.

Besides, rain gardens absorb flood waters, display attractive bushes and flowering plants, and help calm traffic by breaking up the linear flow parallel to curbs. They enhance their blocks and reduce runoff downhill from them.

Now you can sign up for the Borough’s Adopt-a-Rain Garden Program to help take care of a rain garden near where you live. This is much better than letting an outside contractor make all the decisions and do the necessary maintenance when it suits their schedule. Besides, gardening is healthy, fun, and satisfying.

The Borough web site explains: “Volunteers will be involved in plant selection, planting, and light garden maintenance, and most importantly making sure the infrastructure is working as intended.”

If you’re willing, please sign up here for one of the sites still open for “adoption.” These are:

Veterans Memorial Park – Walkway
Veterans Memorial Park – Playground
E. Chestnut & Penn St – NE Corner
Greenfield Park (five gardens)
S. Everhart & Sharpless St. (two gardens)
S. Everhart & Mulberry Alley (two gardens)
S. Everhart & W. Nields St. (two gardens)

There will be a training for volunteers in April. Let’s make this a real community effort! Neighbors can work out so each really only takes care of one garden.

For more background from on our own web site, see here and here.

Rain garden diagram from Borough web site

The Trouble with Salt

An article by Diane Huskinson titled “The Trouble with Salt” at the Stroud Water Research Center explains the dire problems caused by road salt in our area. And let’s not think the problem is confined to snow season; in fact salinity remains high in summer, when warmer temperatures make salt even more toxic to aquatic organisms! Stroud has a program for monitoring the quality of local streams. See the article for more info and links.

Our municipalities need to solve this problem, since they are the ones putting the great majority of the salt into our streams. Rain gardens and green infrastructure such as retention basins can help; and also of course reducing salt use, especially in low-speed byways like alleys. See also here on this site and info at our component group Don’t Spray Me! And you can search “road salt” on both sites.

Retrospective: 6 years ago, West Chester voters approved a Community Bill of Rights

As the world struggles to salvage its environment, let’s remember that in November 2015, West Chester voters amended their Home Rule Charter by adding a new section, #904, under the heading of Community Bill of Rights.

The added wording asserts the people’s Right of Local Community Self-Government, Right to Assert the Right of Self-Government, Right to Water, Right to Clean Air, Right to Peaceful Enjoyment of Home, and Right to a Sustainable Energy Future, and furthermore the Rights of Ecosystems and Natural Communities. Ecosystems and natural communities.

It goes on to ban, in West Chester Borough, extracting natural gas, depositing any fracking wastewater or other fracking product, and creating fossil fuel, nuclear, or other non-sustainable energy production and delivery infrastructures.

The effort, involving also the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and a group of local residents, was led by environmentalist Dianne Herrin, who went on to be elected Mayor and now represents the 156th district in the Pennsylvania House.

From the November 2015 press release by CELDF, headquartered in western PA and a leader in the Community Rights and Rights of Nature (or environmental personhood) movement:

West Chester Voters Adopt Community Rights Charter Amendment Banning Frack Wastewater, Pipelines, and Drilling

Join growing numbers of municipalities across the U.S. that are prohibiting fossil fuel activities by asserting community rights

West Chester Borough, Chester County, Pennsylvania — November 4, 2015

With over 73% of the vote, the people of West Chester Borough adopted an amendment to their home rule charter, constitutionalizing a Community Bill of Rights, and protecting those rights by prohibiting fracking and its associated activities – including pipelines and wastewater disposal. They join the growing numbers of communities across Pennsylvania and the U.S. that are codifying their rights to clean air, water, and local self-government, and are banning fracking activities as a violation of those rights.

The amendment was proposed through a petitioning process conducted by residents of the Borough, and led by West Chester Community Rights Alliance (WCCRA). The local group requested educational and legal assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in grassroots organizing and drafting the charter initiative….

keep reading at CELDF

Riparian improvement at Greenfield Park on Goose Creek, West Chester

by Courtney Finneran, from WC Tree Team Facebook, 4/18/21

Look what happens when people show up to help their community! A transformation is underway at Greenfield Park thanks to the 20 volunteers who came out on a gorgeous Saturday morning to help free the stream from knotweed, honeysuckle, grapevine, multiflora rose, and other noxious invasives. We put down about 15 yards of wood chips and will replant with natives in the fall.

Thanks to all who made this possible including Borough of West Chester Public Works Dept (who delivered the wood chips and will haul off the materials), the Borough Arborist (who volunteered his time and expertise) Michael Dunn of Brandywine Urban Forest Consulting, and several members of the Tree Commission and West Chester Green Team.

Before and after photos below show invasives gone and mulched areas ready for fall planting:

What If Lakes And Rivers Had Legal Rights?

“…legal personhood affords rights of protection to the water to protect it from pollutants, from human-caused climate change impacts and from man-made contamination.” — Kelsey Leonard, Shinnecock tribe member, water and climate science researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

From “Kelsey Leonard: What If Lakes And Rivers Had Legal Rights?” interviewed on the TED radio program “Our relationship with Water” on NPR 8/7/20, rebroadcast 1/31/21.

And the results of today’s exploitative attitude toward water?

“…over 2 billion people … live in countries that are experiencing high water stress currently, and it is anticipated that by 2030, up to 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity.”

For more on the movement toward legal rights of nature, see CELDF (Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund), headquartered in Mercersburg PA.

Water drainage in WCU’s Sykes parking lot, updated 1/26/21

The photo shows a problem on the east side of the parking lot behind Sykes Student Union in West Goshen, just south of Rosedale AVe. from West Chester Borough. A large paved surface is drained by several grills and surface outflows, but water flow has caused subsidence behind this yellow barrier (actually a bicycle rack).

As shown in the first photo, storm water from that part of the lot now bypasses the grill and flows into the pit. If we look down inside in good light, we find that the pavement has subsided into the bottom of the pit (which is about 3 feet deep) and that not only water coursing off the lot but also the contents coming in from a pipe to the left flow into a larger pipe under the grill (photo 2).

Where does the water go from there? The lot itself includes no retention basin, and from surface drainage on the south side of the lot and from drains around the lot, water runs off into a wooded area to the south.

Looking closely there, we see (photo 3) a substantial pond stretching along the whole south side of the parking lot. Is this WCU property? Is it a planned retention area? Does it filter out car and road salt contamination and allow water to soak into the water table? And the answer to all those questions fortunately is Yes, per conversation with WCU personnel on Jan. 26.

This isn’t just a drainage question, but a historical problem, dating back to an era of much lower environmental consciousness. The main WCU campus was built on the upper reaches of Plum Run, which was put underground; its water now flows into the Brandywine River at route 52. WCU of course knows the needed corrective measures and has done well to install retention basins on New St. south of the Recreation Center, on Sharpless St. outside the Business and Public Management Center, and south of the lot at Roslyn Ave. south of Rosedale Ave.

Even assuming the Sykes parking lot is adequately served by the above-identified pond area, would it also be a good location to show off good water treatment through future retention basins, trees and rain gardens to absorb water and improve the scenery?

Be that as it may, at some point to the south, a stream (photo 4, seen from the bridge at Oak Lane, with the added attraction of a chilly groundhog or possum hunkering down to the left of the water) emerges from among private properties that prevent public access for the desired observations.

At any rate, the storm water south of Rosedale drains down toward WCU’s much-appreciated 126-acre Gordon Natural Area, which shows signs of stream erosion on the far bank (just behind the unfortunate extraneous object in photo 5, taken 12/13/20):

That’s what water does, seeking the easiest path downward, and when more of it runs off than an existing natural watercourse can handle, it damages built infrastructure, erodes stream banks and potentially causes flooding. Although based on current info the Sykes lot seems not to be contributing to any problems downstream, it is always good to evaluate water flow with the big issues in mind: retention, flooding, erosion.

West Chester’s Goose Creek fire of 1931

In the recent Earth Day commemorations, commentators mentioned the infamous 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, which although hardly the first time the chemically-polluted surface of that river in Cleveland caught fire, was strategically timed to dramatize environmental efforts building at that time toward the first Earth Day the next year.

West Chester had its own river fire and environmental 9/11 89 years ago. Goose Creek, which flows through the east side of West Chester on its way to the Delaware River, caught fire on September 11, 1931. According to research by Professor Jim Jones in 2006,

“A road paving company stored tar and other flammable materials in tanks near the creek at Union Street. One tank leaked, and some neighborhood boys accidentally set fire to the resulting oil slick near the Nields Street bridge. The fire spread upstream along the creek and burned down fences and sheds belonging to the houses on Franklin Street. The heat destroyed the Lacey Street bridge and the flames ignited the tanks at Union Street. The fire burned for three hours and closed down the railroad. No one was killed, but several were injured when the crowd of onlookers panicked and began to run.”

Daily Local News coverage of the fire compiled by Professor Jones (download it here) says, in the dramatic language of the period:

“Confronted by a roaring fury of flames and enveloped in billowing clouds of dense black smoke, fear-stricken householders, property owners and volunteer firemen from every end of town and every walk of life, battled into submission one of the most spectacular and dangerous fires in the history of the borough.”

Jim comments that “I was part of the annual Goose Creek cleanups for a lot of years. In the first year Goose Creek still seemed pretty dead, but I remember seeing our first fish a year or two later, and then seeing larger fish each year after that. At the same time, the amount of trash that we collected went down, leading to the formula ‘Trash weight down = fish weight up.'”

Yes, streams like Goose Creek are a lot cleaner now, thanks to initiatives begun in the 1960s and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) enacted on 1/1/70. Only continued efforts, in West Chester and elsewhere, to keep such programs viable will continue protecting environmental and human health and safety.

An Introduction to Rain Gardens

West Chester Borough has now constructed several rain gardens, which filter out pollutants and reduce runoff into streams. Property owners can of course also construct rain gardens, and in fact by doing so can benefit from a reduction of their Stream Protection Fee. Here is good info from PennState Extension, 9/6/17:

What is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a planted depression that soaks up rainwater runoff from roofs, driveways, walkways, and compacted lawn areas—water that would otherwise carry pollutants directly to our streams. Rain gardens soak up 30 percent more water than an equivalent patch of lawn.
Where Do You Put a Rain Garden?

Choose an area where you want to soak up rainwater at least 10 feet from the house. Rain gardens can drain water from downspouts or catch water that drains off roads and walkways. Avoid areas over septic systems.

Do not place a rain garden in areas that are consistently wet. Rain gardens should drain completely within 24 hours….

Continue reading or download this handy guide to building and maintaining a rain garden at PennState Extension. See also our own 2019 post “Rain gardens / green infrastructure / Stream Protection Fee.”