Join FOW & WVWA for a Watershed Conference with Lasting Impact

Maura McCarthy, Executive Director, Friends of the Wissahickon

On Wednesday, Oct. 24, Friends of the Wissahickon and the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association will co-host “Communities Connecting for a Clean Wissahickon,” to share progress on the Wissahickon Clean Water Partnership. Regional and local stakeholders will discuss the watershed-wide research and planning that will result in a new, holistic approach to improving water quality in the Wissahickon watershed.

The 64-mile watershed plays a critical role in our region. It flows through 12 municipalities from its beginning in eastern Montgomery County to its confluence with the Schuylkill in Northwest Philadelphia. Wissahickon Creek is a vital part of this watershed. Besides its beauty and popularity for recreation, it contributes to the drinking water of 350,000 Philadelphians and provides habitat for local wildlife. More than 130 species of birds can be found in the watershed, as well as 15 mammal species and 574 species of native plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report in 2015 demonstrating the importance of small streams and wetlands to water quality, concluding as a scientific fact that what happens upstream affects what happens downstream. Challenges to the health of the Wissahickon and its tributaries throughout both the upper (Montgomery County) and lower (Philadelphia County) portions of the watershed are getting worse. They include increased development, stormwater runoff, pollution (including trash) and flooding, plus climate change, and threats to habitat. 

If we want future generations to continue to enjoy this special place, it’s incumbent upon us to take care of it. Through “Communities Connecting for a Clean Wissahickon,” we hope to raise awareness – and spur action – by bringing municipalities and residents together for a sobering look at the situation, to better understand it and learn what they can do to help.

Join me and WVWA Executive Director Gail Farmer, who will be moderating a panel of local experts: 

  • Patrick Starr, executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. He will provide background on the regulatory framework that made this collaboration possible.
  • Laura Toran, Ph.D., the Weeks Chair of Environmental Geology at Temple University, who teaches and conducts research on hydrogeology and urban hydrology. She leads a team of experts from Temple that is working to support better understanding of the Wissahickon through monitoring, computer modeling and assessment.
  • Jay Cruz, an environmental scientist at the Philadelphia Water Department. He has directed many watershed assessment, water-quality modeling, and green-infrastructure monitoring projects. Jay has extensively studied the physical, water-quality and ecosystem-level changes that occur in small watersheds as a result of urbanization as well as the water quality and hydrologic performance of stormwater management practices. 
  • Mary Aversa, Ambler borough manager, will bring her knowledge about operations at the Waste Water Treatment Plant and the Water Company, both owned and operated by the borough, serving several municipalities. Her background also includes all aspects of Ambler’s stormwater runoff management and wastewater treatment as it relates to the discharge from the water treatment plant.
  • Ellen Kohler, JD, MS, is water quality program manager at the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center. Her projects focus on water resources, particularly water quality issues facing communities in the Delaware River and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.
  • Mark Grey is a supervisor in Lower Gwynedd Township and serves on several sub-committees including the Environmental Advisory Council. He also co-chairs the Wissahickon Clean Water Partnership, which includes 13 municipalities and four waste water treatment facilities.

“Communities Connecting for a Clean Wissahickon” takes place 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Cherokee Campus. Thank you to our sponsors Green Mountain Energy, Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the William Penn Foundation. For more info and to register, visit or