How Maya van Rossum Leads The Charge to Protect Our Waters

One of the most pressing environmental and health issues of our time is the proliferation of shale oil drilling, or as it is commonly known, fracking. For a must-see primer on the issue I suggest watching Gasland and Gasland 2.

Leading the charge in protecting local waters throughout New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, is Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. Maya is the spokesperson for and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN), a nonprofit environmental organization and vital force in the preservation, protection, and restoration of the Delaware River Watershed. She heads a team of dedicated staff and volunteers who monitor the river and advocate, educate, and litigate for protection, restoration, and change.

Van Rossum, who has led DRN for almost 20 years, is a powerful force in protecting the river against various threats, including shale fracking and drilling, dredging, dumping, pollution, and detrimental construction. She organizes concerned citizens, testifies before state and national governing bodies, overseas all litigation, and keeps a close watch on the Delaware River and all of its tributary streams. She often is out on the water herself, looking for signs of pollution and illegal activity and witnessing the many varied ways people enjoy and benefit from a healthy river, streams, and ecosystems.

Key DRN accomplishments under van Rossum’s leadership include:

  • Securing a moratorium on shale gas development and fracking in the Delaware River Watershed that still holds today.
  • Securing antidegradation protection for the largest stretch of river in the country, protection that largely prohibits new industry and sewage treatment facilities from being built along the Delaware River’s banks and requires strict regulations for any exceptions. This designation also gives the river a level of protection from proposed shale gas drilling that is unrivaled anywhere in the country.
  • Leading the advocacy and legal action that stopped the U.S. Army from dumping 1,200 tons of VX nerve agent waste into the Delaware River.
  • Preventing construction of a 56-foot-high high-hazard flood control dam across the Neshaminy Creek and securing a now nationally recognized nonstructural approach to flood damage reduction.
  • Leading in the litigation that overturned the portions of Act 13, Pennsylvania’s 2013 oil and gas law, that infringed upon municipal zoning authority.
  • Leading in the litigation that secured implementation in Pennsylvania and Delaware of the provision of the Clean Water Act that requires states to assess all waterways and clean up impaired waters; this legal strategy has been copied across the country, resulting in the identification and listing of polluted waters and the passage of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution limitations designed to clean up those waters.
  • Securing legislation in New Jersey to stop the bait harvest of horseshoe crabs in order to protect that species as well as the declining populations of shorebirds, including some at risk of extinction, that depend upon horseshoe crab eggs during their spring migrations.
  • Preserving as open space the 400-acre Petty’s Island, located in the river between Camden and Philadelphia, in order to protect the river and wildlife, including nesting bald eagles, and to prevent future flood victims in need of emergency services and flood damage payouts.
  • Preventing introduction of Pacific salmonids to the Delaware River system.
  • Designing and constructing an innovative stormwater management system to control stormwater entering Saddlers Woods, a preserved 25-acre woodland in Haddon Township, New Jersey.
  • Protecting numerous critical habitats from inappropriate development, artificial turf, and deforestation.

The Delaware River and its tributaries and watershed are under a constantly growing number of assaults, including development projects that contribute to sprawl; the aggressive extraction of resources; floodplain, habitat, and wetlands destruction; new and increased pollution discharges to the river and tributaries; proposals to fill sections of the river, bay, or tributaries for development projects; over-harvesting of species; blasting; dredging; damming; dumping; spills; and catastrophic events. All combine to harm our watershed and all the communities that rely upon it.

Immediate future goals for van Rossum and DRN include: preventing shale gas development in the Delaware River Watershed; preventing the proliferation of pipelines and compressors associated with shale gas within the boundaries of the Delaware River Watershed; preventing the construction and operation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities built to export natural gas; securing policies that ensure preservation of minimum 100-foot buffers along all streams and floodplains; ensuring passage and implementation of best stormwater and construction practices; continuing water quality data collection; preventing the further decline and/or extinction of critical Delaware River species such as Atlantic sturgeon, horseshoe crabs, American shad, and migratory shorebirds; and protecting critical habitats in the watershed for the health and safety of all our communities. These efforts are all designed to protect the region from growing flooding, erosion, and pollution; unsafe water quality; and loss of recreation, sustainable jobs and education opportunities.

Van Rossum also hosts the Shale Truth Interview series on YouTube to provide other perspectives to the discussion on shale gas development and is a regular guest blogger for The Huffington Post.

The Delaware is the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi, flowing freely for 330 miles as it travels from New York through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware to the Atlantic Ocean. Learn how you can help protect and advocate for clean water at Follow Maya on Twitter at @DelRiverkeeper and her blog at

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