White Creek was listed as the highest priority for dredging in a recent survey of Delaware’s waterways.
And the process of making White Creek safer to navigate is underway.
White Creek hasn’t undergone dredging since the early 2000’s. Now, the waterway is again clogged with underwater hazards and sandbars — making the creek difficult to use, even with the waterway markings in place.
DNREC identified White Creek as one of its first dredging projects to start after getting feedback from boaters who use the state’s waterways.
Jesse Hayden from DNREC says because of a lack of state and federal funding, they can’t guarantee any waterway gets dredged on a regular basis.
“If a channel is perpetually filling in and becomes a navigation problem it will be at the top of our list repeatedly and may be subject to dredging again and again,” Hayden said.
DNREC has also decided to use the material scooped from the riverbed to help raise up nearby marshes.
“So this particular technology, thin layer placement, is merely accelerating the natural process of sediment deposition that happens in back bay systems due to the incoming and outgoing tides,” said Ram Mohan with Anchor QEA, a firm that works on projects like White Creek.
Mohan says the 30-50,000 cubic yards of sediment will help Delaware’s marshes be more resistant to sea level rise and continue to provide habitat and prevent flooding.
The agency has identified a few potential sites to place the deranged sediment, including Holt’s Landing, James Farm and the Delaware Seashore State Park.
The sediment would be scooped up from the bottom, and then pumped over to the deposition sites, where a large sprayer, similar to a fire hose, would “rain” the sediment down upon the areas targeted. Mohan says it’s meant to simulate natural rainfall and means the sediment will get dispersed in a way that doesn’t harm the marshland.
All the sites identified for this sediment dispersal are at risk of habitat destruction from sea level rise. And depending on the actual capacity of each site, and the amount of sediment dredged from White Creek, DNREC may have to use more than one of the locations.
This is all an alternative to what was done last time White Creek was dredged, where all the sediment taken was dumped on a privately owned site right off the waterway. DNREC says this time they’ll be both making the waterway easier to navigate and helping nearby marshes deal with sea level rise.
DNREC needs to go through the permit process to start the White Creek dredging project, and if all goes smoothly, the dredging can begin late next year.
Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.