Grant will help make Christina River fishable, swimmable in a generation

The Christina Conservancy has received $249,300 in federal funding intended to make the lower Christina and Brandywine rivers in Wilmington fishable and swimmable within a generation.

“This award is a paradigm shift,” said John L. Williams, president of the conservancy’s board of directors.

The grant will be used to create a plan to remove PCBs from the river bottom. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are highly toxic industrial compounds.

“Most remediation to date has been cleaning up brownfields adjacent to the rivers – the side of the bathtub, if you will,” he said. “This plan looks at how to clean up the bottom of the bathtub, the river itself. This is a blueprint for Wilmington to be an emerald city.”


The Delaware River Watershed Conservation Fund grant, from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service, is part of a three-year investment of $770,397 for remediation, restoration and resilience, counting in matching funds from the conservancy, the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and other sources.

Williams said the project started with sonar mapping of the river bottom and core sampling to identify fine-grain settlements that trap PCBs.

“This grant avoids the waiting game of having to wait a century for past PCBs to flush themselves out of the river,” he said. “The actual remediation strategy has yet to be determined, but preliminary testing of SediMite is showing promise. That involves sprinkling carbon grains that contain active bacteria engineered to ‘clip off’ chlorine atoms from benzene rings in PCBs, neutralizing and capturing them.”


This was done successfully in Dover’s Silver Lake, he added.

The most prominent development on the Wilmington Riverfront is along the Christina. The Brandywine joins the Christina just to the east of the Riverfront and just to the west of I-495.

“Being able to swim in and eat fish from these rivers are long-term goals,” said Marian Young, president of BrightFields, an environmental firm in Wilmington. “This grant launches a new level of river stewardship.”

The grant was one of 37 totaling $8.1 million, announced from the fund. Other Delaware grants:


• The Caesar Rodney School District received $147,302 for habitat restoration and outdoor education. The project aims to restore underutilized space at 10 schools through student-led EcoTeams, classes, district staff and community partners. That goes with $140,348 in matching funds. 

• The Delaware Department of Agriculture received $250,000 to improve the diversity and quality of cover crops in Kent County to increase water quality for fish and forage for migratory birds. That goes with $384,000 in matching funds.

• The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control received $500,000 to restore wetlands and a failing water control structure in the Thousand Acre Marsh, on the southern side of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, just west of the Delaware River. That goes with $1,107,594 in matching funds.


• Delaware Wild Lands received $129,247 for habitat restoration and land protection at Taylor’s Bridge, near Townsend. The project will restore 42 acres of agricultural lands, maintain 45 acres of recently restored wetland buffers and protect 100 acres via land acquisition. That goes with $130,800 in matching funds.

• The New Castle Conservation District received $349,085 to demolish a 6-foot high, 160-foot wide dam on the White Clay Creek. The project will restore a mile of the river, enabling shad and river herring to spawn. That goes with $355,000 in matching funds. Another dam on the White Clay was breached in 2014 for the same reasons. It was called the state’s first recorded dam removal. 


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About the Contributor


Ken Mammarella

Ken Mammarella is a freelance writer who lives in Wilmington.