Growing Ambler Greener: Clean Runoff, Clean Water

Mary-Margaret Monser, for the Shuttle

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The Ambler Environmental Advisory Council is sponsoring EarthFest on Saturday, April 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Ambler Borough Hall, 131 Rosemary Ave. Our theme this year is “Growing Ambler Greener: Clean Waters, Clean Streams.”

Clean water is an essential aspect of life that most of us take for granted. We turn on the spigot, brush our teeth and clean water flows. But in reality, the watershed we live in, the Wissahickon Watershed, is impaired. How did this come to be? Development. Back in the day, when it rained, the water would soak into the ground, with plants and trees enhancing filtration, before slowly percolating to the ground table where it would become a part of the waterways. Clean filtered water the natural way. But as civilization has progressed and we have developed the land around us, we have degraded this natural filtration process, to the detriment of our waterways. 

Think about it — all those roads, parking lots, houses, malls and office buildings. Now, when it rains, water flows across millions of square feet of impervious surfaces, picks up pollutants such as salt, motor oil, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and just plain old trash and carries them to the storm drain, where it empties into the nearest creek. As development has progressed, it has become harder and harder for mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies, the most sensitive indicators of poor water conditions, to survive; they just can’t live in polluted water. Eventually our creeks have become not just less safe for these macroinvertebrates but also unsafe for humans to swim or fish in, much less drink from. 

Fortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have taken notice and started to hold communities accountable for the water flowing into our creeks. Now, any community that has storm drains must get a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Permit and have an actionable plan to make improvements in identified pollutants like nutrients and sedimentation. 

In Ambler, we are engaged in creating community awareness and empowering residents to be the difference in improving our watershed. Through a Growing Greener Grant from the DEP, we are providing education and helping businesses and individuals put tools in place to filter water before it enters storm drains, or keep water where it falls so that it can infiltrate the water table the old-fashioned way. 

Where does the rain water flow in your own backyard? As it washes off your roof, does it go into a rain garden, downspout planter or rain barrel? Does it flow through your pervious pavers into the ground underneath? Or does it flow onto a driveway or walkway, picking up salts and debris, and, unfiltered, enter a storm drain where eventually it ends up in the Wissahickon Creek and then the Schuylkill, a drinking water source for people living, working in and visiting Philadelphia? 

We have a vested interest in assuring that we are sending the cleanest water possible downstream. It starts in our own backyards.

Join the Ambler EAC, the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association and other stakeholders at Ambler EarthFest, a fun, family-friendly Earth Day event. Learn more about growing our communities greener through clean streams and clean water; learn about the benefits of trees, and sign up to win a chance to have a tree planted on your property; participate in a fun-for-kids nature walk around Ambler borough; attend presentations on rain gardens and permeable pavers, or the “Health of the Wissahickon Creek.” Then visit participating stores like Weavers Way and the Antique Garden Cottage to learn more about how they are growing our community greener. 

For more information, visit