Monday, September 28, 2009

Frickin' Frac

The PA DEP is coming down on Cabot with an order to stop hydro fracturing operations in Susquehanna County, at least for now. Read the story in ProPublica.

Yesterday was the Delaware Valley Division of the American Canoe Association's Annual Picnic Paddle and Meeting. We reelected the existing slate of Directors and had a nice cookout at Tinicum County Park. The 7 mile run down the river took place in a warm mist but it was a lovely morning on the river and never actually rained.

We saw a solitary osprey right at the beginning of the trip near Stover Mill and also observed spotted sandpipers, great blues, wood duck, merganser and several cormorants. The highlight of the trip was my second unplanned swim within the past two weeks (and only my third so far this century) and that was really only remarkable because I took Sharon along with me. We were paddling an unsinkable battleship (Penobscot 17'), or so I thought. The partially submerged rock did the trick, paddling backwards (facing downstream) was another contributing factor. We needed a wake up and being one with the river did that for us. Once again the water was warm and there is no river east of the Mississippi that I'd rather fall into.

Next up - fall canoe camping somewhere upriver.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tidal River...

"Love" in the Reading Terminal Train Shed

Took the train into Philly for a meeting at the office of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council to discuss an upcoming recreational user survey and the potential for expanding access on the tidal river.

PEC recently completed a Tidal Delaware River Water Trail Guide, which can be found on this website.

The tidal portion of the river presents serious challenges for paddlers, and the difficulties that one can encounter can be are made even worse in those sections that are surrounded by bulkheads and docks. There are a few opportunities for paddlers to explore the tidal Delaware River, but not so much around the city itself. Most people in Philly paddle on the non-tidal Schuylkill River above Fairmont Dam, where one can encounter every type of human powered boat between Boathouse Row and Manayunk. The tidal Delaware River has potential for increased use by non-powered boats, but its extremely limited due to lack of access.

The tidal Delaware is not the kind of environment that will ever support private livery services for novice paddlers. But it could be a paddling destination for urban paddlers who want to paddle locally or for experienced paddlers who could be enticed by a combination of paddling and cultural amenities.

A meeting in Philly invariably involves a gastronomic adventure or two and it this case the Society Hill Hotel Bar (Paulaner Octoberfest and cheese steak) and a trip to the best gelato place on the planet. Killer diet too, which perhaps explains why one sees so many people waddling about town.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cabot + Halliburton = Polluted Wells & Streams

All manner of PA officials including politicians and agency 'crats have been downplaying the impacts of gas drilling on watersheds (water quality and quantity). This is not surprising considering the economic boon realized by landowners, energy companies, and of course the state budget.

ProPublica covers this story about pollution problems caused by Cabot Oil and Gas in northern PA. Cabot is a drilling firm that uses (and it would seem abuses) a chemical compound manufactured by the notorious (drum roll...) HALLIBURTON. No lie. Natural gas drilling polluted nine private wells, a wetland area and Stevens Creek in the Susquehanna watershed according to the PA DEP.

According to Penn Future in a statement made September 11, a proposed PA budget deal that was recently announced included a "massive giveaway to huge, multi-national energy corporations that want full and immediate access to drill, baby, drill in our public forests and parks." This was was pushed heavily by PA Republicans with some bipartisan support ("drill baby drill" is a regularly used Republican Campaign slogan made popular by former Governor Palin).

The newly proposed acres would be in addition to the hundreds of thousands of acres already under lease, mostly for natural gas extraction. According to Penn Future the legislature also failed to adopt the severance tax on drilling operations, something many of us supported through our letters to state reps and senators.

Go to the Penn Future website to listen to a discussion by Jan Jarrett. It's an easy way to get a summary of this issue which is so critical for all people living within the Marcellus Shale formation in PA. It is a huge issue for the Susquehanna River and Upper Delaware River watersheds (including a portion of NY).

Gas drilling is a hot topic in Texas, Michigan and several other states, as I have found out through participation in a Google Group for folks who are dealing directly with gas drilling. And that means they are involved with their neighbors. Many of the communities involved in northern PA have revolved around the entire progression of historic resource extraction over hundreds of years; industries like timber and coal. The Marcellus Shale formation is a big chunk of Appalachia.

I know how welcome the revenues from gas drilling were for my late Uncle Cecil Parsons of Canaan Valley, WV. He and Aunt Ginny were farmers in a Zone 5 climate, and the gas dollars helped supplement income from beef, hay and of all things -- cauliflower (1960's). But to my knowledge the drilling operation was small and low impact. Indeed their farm now abuts the nation's 500th National Wildlife Refuge.

But as the links referenced above show, serious damage to the natural environment is occurring and it is widespread. Gas drillers are like utility companies as far as the techniques they use to conquer and divide the people who own the tracts of land that happen to be the places the geologists predict will yield gas. I have experienced 'divide and conquer' and have seen the damage done when things go wrong with certain pipeline and electric companies. They also have the political influence (AKA lots of dollars) to influence elected officials at all levels, but especially state senators and representatives.

A confluence of economic conditions and geopolitical events is causing a flood of drilling pressure in every direction. Each company brings its own proprietary blend of chemicals to split open the earth and each is capable of ruining streams and contaminating groundwater. Pennsylvania is set to open the flood gates even though its own environmental enforcement structure is inadequate to monitor drillers and enforce its regulations. That's left up to the drillers themselves and that can't stand. It will become the responsibility of the people who would potentially be harmed.

According to an industry source "Oil and Gas Investor" Cabot is increasing production in PA and they are just one of several operating within the commonwealth and adjacent areas in New York.

Local watershed associations are needed to put the focus on watershed systems rather than discreet drilling sites and site specific problems.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Last days of summer on the river...

Above: #1 Setting off on the Birds of the Delaware trip with the Lumberville-Bulls Island Walking Bridge in background; #2 Checking out the confluence of the Locatong Creek, Delaware River and Delaware & Raritan Canal.

Today was the first "Birds of the Delaware River" trip and 20 paddlers enjoyed a spectacular day on the river, even if the bird sightings were somewhat limited (albeit seasonally normal, as was the water level).

When we met at 8 AM a thick fog laid over the river valley and the air temp was around 45 deg. By the time we made it around the first bend we were peeling off the layers of fleece and wool. On the last weekend day of summer it felt positively like autumn, a great time of year for paddlers who like cooler weather and fewer people on the river.

We had a mix of members from the Bucks County Audubon Society and American Canoe Association, cosponsoring organizations (and some who were "none of the above"). There was a nice mix of canoes & kayaks (solo and tandem), with a decidedly larger number of canoes and that definitely is not the trend. Especially with several of the group having relatively limited experience. This was a first ever river trip for at least one of our group and I was glad to have chosen one of the easier paddling stretches of the river.

The primary sightings included several double-crested cormorants, 3 great blue heron, kingfisher, 4 common merganser (female), a small flock of ring billed gulls ( we think), and we heard many year round resident songbirds like the Carolina wren, nuthatch and several others. The cliff swallows that nest under the bridges have already headed south as apparently have the spotted sandpipers. This stretch of the river doesn't normally offer a look at the bald eagle or osprey. That is a sure thing above the Water Gap. There will be another Birds of the Delaware River trip sometime in May 2010.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Surfing the shelf just below Riegelsville.

Yesterday's canoe trip was remarkable for the transformational nature of my 'Baptism' in the Delaware River - PRAISE BE!

Chris M and I set off for a long trip between Riegelsville and Frenchtown with the primary objective to scout for trash in advance of the upcoming river cleanup. Little did we know, I would be called by the River Gods to a sudden and ultimately lengthy swim in the clean and surprisingly warm water.

This occurred just after our break at the Indian Rock. More specifically I was dunked at the last and largest of the rock ledges at the top of Upper Black's Eddy. While surfing this ledge I found a nice groove side-surfing back and forth in front of it. Then I found myself on top of the ledge and in front of a hole. The River God whispered something and moving closer to hear the message I noticed a gorgeous Mermaid lying on the bottom, smiling up at me. What else could I do but fall for this adventure?

It was a surreal experience in that I could see that I was about to be swallowed up by the hole but rather than taking evasive action (employing a strong brace for example) I passively allowed it to unfold. I succumbed, swooned, and sank in the frothy current.

An impromptu and unexpected swim is usually a rude surprise. This one was strange in that I did all that I could to allow it, short of simply plunging head first out of the boat, which in reality is what occurred.

Once the Baptism began it was all about self rescue, with the assistance of my paddling partner. It was a long swim through easy rapids as I was dragged downriver by the partially submerged canoe (one of my floatation bags was deflated too). My first thought was to save Sharon's camera or face a cruel punishment. That was easy enough since the expensive piece of equipment was tied in and contained in a dry box. Then I spied my $20 coffee mug floating downriver - help! Chris snagged it, Praise Be.

It seemed like I floated in the strong current for at least a half mile, although it was in reality probably half that distance. The river was clean (hopefully since I gulped a bunch) warm and challenged me to scissor kick from the center of the river all the way over to the PA shore. It was a lumpy swim as the riverbed was studded with large, submerged boulders, which I banged into every so often. Part of this swim featured shallow water of 3 to 4 feet but very strong current. The temptation to user the river bottom to advance towards the shore was great, but that was nearly impossible and brought my feet and legs in contact with the big rocks. Much of the time was spent on my back, feet up, in deep and swift moving current that allowed a side-swim to shore.

Good news: the camera dry box works, the coffee mug doesn't leak, and my cell phone really is water proof (it was in my pants pocket).

That was my first Baptism since a rocky swim in the Tohickon Creek on a cloudy, raw January day a few years back. Other notable Baptisms have taken place in the Musconetcong, Lehigh and Perkiomen.

This one was not so bad although it marked the end of what was an exhilarating surfing session. As it turned out, we observed a surprisingly small amount of trash along the way. Unfortunately that means the considerable amount of litter we observed back in June was carried downriver by the high water events of summer.

As to the transformational nature of the 'Baptism' it is good to be humbled by the river and submit to its power, especially in warm weather.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Feds step up after 8 years of Bush league EPA

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?” said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the state’s largest banks.

This NYT article
discusses the disturbing reality of the failures of our regulatory agencies over the past several years. The above question is not answered, but how long will it take to reverse 8 years of the Bushman policies?

It will take a very long time.

At least the EPA is promising to ratchet up regulations to control sources of pollution coming into the Chesapeake Bay with the emphasis on non-point sources. Read about it in this Baltimore Sun article. Expect intense pushback by the Farm Bureau and Builders Associations.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Full Moon on the River...

Heading down the Delaware River on the full moon paddle.

Joined a small group of canoeists and kayakers for a Thursday evening full moon trip between the Kingwood access and Bulls Island State Park. We put in as the sun was going down and by the time we took out the moon was well up in the sky casting its magical light over the river.

One remarkable aspect of the moonlight paddling experience was the enhanced olfactory experience, which I assume was due to the limited ability to see anything until the moon rose over the mountain. There was the faint breeze carrying lovely herbal scents up the river and of course the earthy bouquet of the river was part of the mix. We also heard some freaky night sounds that I had difficulty identifying. One sounded perhaps like a wading bird, the other likely a fox.

The moonlight trip was a special treat, an amazing experience really. We saw but one other boater out there and that was right at the end of the trip. Two guys in a motor boat were wrapping up their fishing trip as we took our canoes out at around 10 PM.