White Clay Creek

Watersheds of the Piedmont
Brandywine Creek | Christina River | Naamans’ Creek | Red Clay Creek | Shellpot Creek | White Clay Creek

The White Clay Creek watershed is one of four major watersheds in the 565 sq. mi. Christina Basin. The Christina Basin is part of the 13,000 sq. mi. Delaware River Basin. The White Clay Creek is a tributary of the Christina River and flows southward out of the Piedmont geologic province in Pennsylvania and into Delaware near Newark. Approximately 55% of the White Clay Creek watershed lies in Pennsylvania, 45% lies in Delaware and less than 1% lies in Maryland. The northern portion of the watershed in Chester County, Pennsylvania includes the East, Middle, and West Branches of the White Clay Creek. The White Clay Creek flows southeast into New Castle County, Delaware and is joined by Middle Run and Pike and Mill Creeks before emptying into the Christina River. Lower portions of the White Clay Creek are under tidal influence. Towns within the White Clay Creek watershed include Newark, Delaware, and Avondale and West Grove, Pennsylvania. In 2000, the President signed a law adding 190 miles of the White Clay Creek and its tributaries to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The White Clay Creek is the first wild and scenic river in the United States designated on a watershed basis rather than a river corridor.
Land Uses
Collectively the White Clay, Red Clay, Brandywine and upper Christina are used to supply drinking water to more than 50% of New Castle County's population. The surface water of the White Clay Creek and the aquifers in the watershed provide over 120,000 residents with drinking water. The Creek serves as a major drinking water source for much of northern Delaware, accounting for 33 million gallons per day (mgd) of the overall production of water supply from the watershed. Delaware and Pennsylvania residents in the White Clay Creek watershed also receive a significant amount of their water supply from groundwater resources in the watershed. The City of Newark's groundwater supplies provide up to 1.8 mgd from five wells in the watershed. The Artesian Water Company operates six wells that provide up to 1.9 mgd in the Cockeysville Marble Formation near Hockessin, Delaware. The Pennsylvania portion of the watershed is largely rural with a few small towns and villages, such as West Grove and Avondale, and some suburban clusters. The Delaware portion of the watershed includes the City of Newark and is highly suburbanized, although several very large tracts of public open space remain intact and flank the river.
Wildlife and Fisheries
The watershed is home to a wide variety of fish and wildlife. Its waters support over 24 species of fish. The creek is stocked annually by both Delaware and Pennsylvania and is considered Delaware's premier trout-fishing stream. Surveys estimate that 93 species of birds nest in the watershed. Thirty-three species of small mammals have been documented in the watershed. Twenty-seven species of amphibians and reptiles live in the watershed, among them the rare bog (muhlenbergs) turtle.
Nutrients and Bacteria
The nutrient and bacteria TMDLs for the Delaware portion of the White Clay Creek requires varied reductions based on the stream segment of between 0-62% reduction in nitrogen, between 0-77% reduction in phosphorus and between 29-95% reduction in bacteria. The zinc TMDL for the Delaware portion of the White Clay Creek Watershed requires a cap on zinc at 6.73 pounds/day.
The White Clay Creek Watershed has a total of forty-six sites listed in the Site Investigation and Restoration Section database. There are eighteen Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) sites, seventeen state-fund lead (HSCA) sites, seven sites in the Brownfield program, three sites have undergone a preliminary assessment / site inspection (PA/SI) and there is one National Priorities List (NPL) site.

Each of the sites is sampled through the programs listed above for a consistent suite of environmental contaminants. These contaminants are broadly classified as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs), Pesticides, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Metals as listed using USEPA and DNREC defined standards. When sites are adjacent to water bodies sediment samples are collected to assess potential impact from a site on the health of the waters.

In water bodies of the White Clay Creek Watershed, samples have indicated that PCBs, and zinc are present in the environment at levels requiring further attention under the Clean Water Act (1972). The White Clay Creek Watershed is on the 303d list of impaired waters as well as having State of Delaware Fish Consumption Advisories for PCBs.

If you would like to view reports for any of the sites in the SIRS program please follow the link the DNREC Environmental Navigator to search by map for the White Clay Creek Watershed.
Geology and Soils
The watershed is perched along the geologically unique Fall Line. The Fall Line runs through a line stretched between Newark and Wilmington and separates the hilly, rocky, Piedmont from the flat, sandy Coastal Plain Provinces. This transition zone results in a wider array of flora and fauna and enhances the opportunities for nearby researchers.
Recreational Opportunities
About 17% of the watershed is protected open space, two-thirds of that in Delaware. Open space is a major platform for recreation in the White Clay Creek watershed. The White Clay Creek State Park and Preserve and numerous municipal and county parks provide hiking and biking trails for the community. The streams of the White Clay Creek are an extremely popular fishing destination in the tri-state region.
Flora and Forest Communities
Botanical surveys have found over 500 plant species native to the watershed and more than 500 wild flowers including nine native orchids. Trees also contribute significantly to the area's character as tulip trees, sycamores, beeches, and oaks define the landscape. A survey of White Clay Creek State Park and Preserve found 24 Delaware "species of special concern" and numerous plant species from Pennsylvania's endangered plants list.
Further Resources