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Swimming in the Schuylkill

Tue Apr 28, 2009 / Jen Adkins

Fred Logue grew up playing in local waterways.  His family frequently water-skied on both the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers.  As a care-free kid, Fred "never thought much about pollution in the rivers."  His father worked at a refinery on the Schuylkill banks, and Fred remembers touring the plant's wastewater treatment area with his dad.  He was told that the used water was returned to the river, "cleaner than what they took out."  

Prior to the Clean Water Act ('72), the Schuylkill suffered from centuries of industrial pollution, and a resulting public perception that the river was a "lost cause."  But in fact, water quality has improved tremendously in the past three decades.  You wouldn't know that by talking to people who can't get past the dirty history and see the Schuylkill as the success story it really is.  

Now at age 43, Fred is a tri-athlete, swimming in the Schuylkill River again.  It isn't that he hasn't heard the common and negative perceptions regarding the water quality, it's just that Fred knows better.  "Only people who really don't know this river would put it down.  The water quality is great – better than lakes and oceans I have competed in."  Prior to his first race, Fred heard all the warnings from friends and family…don't swallow the water, watch out for dead bodies, and expect to be 'glowing' when you get out, etc.  Since the event was in June, he decided to search the internet for expected water temperatures, and found the RiverCast website.  He remembers, "Not only was the temperature there, it also provided a water quality forecast!  When the report is green, the water is forecasted to be OK for recreational use." 

So what is it actually like swimming in Philadelphia's Schuylkill?  Fred reports that the water is fine…no unpleasant odors, no sticky film, no strange floating objects.  He is glowing when he comes out of the water, but only from physical exertion, and he has swallowed his share of raw Schuylkill, with "no concern."  But even with his first-hand, positive experience in the water, Fred feels that public perception will be slow to change.  "I always get strange looks when I tell people I swim in the Schuylkill, but there are thousands of athletes swimming in this river each year!" 

Drawing huge crowds to the river banks, competitive events, hiking and biking trails, parks and historical attractions along the Schuylkill bring thousands of people and their dollars to local hotels, restaurants and other businesses each year, and the river towns gain increased revenues.  In 2009, the time has come to 'wring' out the old perceptions and bring on the new...the Schuylkill river is in fact a thriving, recreational, economic, and life-sustaining force of a resource, worthy of our recognition, protection, and most of all, our respect.

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Schuylkill History

Thu Jul 16, 2009 4:43 PM / John Kennedy

There is a cover story about the Schuylkill River in a late 1940s edition of the Saturday Evening Post, if my memory serves me. It is facinating how the river was abused in the pre-Federal Water Pollution Act days and how much progress we have made since 1972. If I can find it, I will share it.