By: Madison Miller, South Jersey Climate News Writer Photos: Edi Doh, South Jersey Climate News Photographer
This article was originally published on South Jersey Climate News and is reproduced here with permission. To read more stories that explore the effects of climate change on a local and regional level in southern New Jersey, visit their website at: https://sjclimate.news/
When South Jersey residents want to cool off in the water, they usually head to the shore. But what about swimming and floating in the Delaware River in Camden?
On a recent sunny Saturday in July, that’s exactly what several dozen people did, dressed in costumes and wacky hats while riding on kayaks, inner tubes, and unicorn-shaped floaties.
The annual “FLOATOPIA” event at Pyne Point Park in Camden, hosted by The Littoral Society and Upstream Alliance, is designed to be a fun way to enjoy the river, but also to raise awareness about access to clean water for swimming, tubing and fishing.
“People from Philly and Camden maybe don’t necessarily think that they have this recreational asset, but they do and it’s in their backyard,” said Olivia Liu, the Program and Communications Director at Upstream Alliance. “We want to provide them the opportunity to use it.”
The event was free and featured speakers, live music and the historic ship The AJ Meerwald. One person was brave enough to do a handstand on the dock and then flop backward into the water.
Despite a ban on swimming in the stretch between Camden and Philadelphia, the Delaware River is clean enough to swim in, according to organizers, but only on certain days. During rainstorms, sewage can overflow into the river from the combined sewer systems.
“We’re trying to stop that from happening so that we can swim all days of the year,” said Erica Baugh, Chief Operating Officer of Upstream Alliance. “If it had rained in the last 48 hours over a half an inch, we would not be able to do this today.”
The Delaware River is much cleaner than it was in decades past because of the Clean Water Act, a federal law enacted in 1972.
But the river is still full of debris, trash, as well as herbicides and pesticides. In May 2023, a latex emulsion spill in the Delaware made drinking water for much of Philadelphia unsafe to drink for several days and led to panicked bottled water buying on both sides of the river.
Improving the water quality involves changing laws, policies and infrastructure, organizers said, but also people’s perceptions of the waterways and how they can be used.
“I think it’s about rebuilding people’s relationship with the river, leading by example, getting on out there, and then continuing to push our decision makers to make sure that it’s not just on the clean days, it’s everyday that we can go out on the river,” said Stephanie Wein, a Water and Conservation Advocate for PennEnvironment,
Joyce Meder, a 63-year-old participant from Abington, Pennsylvania, attended the event last year and enjoyed it so much she came back with her float and dressed in a cell phone costume.
“When I die, I want it to be the day after this,” said Meder. “You just have to sit there and relax, you don’t have to worry about anything and the food, oh my god, it’s great and it’s all free. It’s a beautiful day.”
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