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DRB Info for Students & Teachers: Fun Facts About the DRB
Did You Know?

We know that the Delaware River and Delaware River Basin are unique and special. There are so many different things that make it so, and this list is by no means exhaustive. 

Enjoy the following fun facts about the river and basin - how many of these did you know?!? 

About the Delaware River
Photo of the Delaware Water Gap by DRBC.
The Delaware Water Gap. Photo by DRBC.

 The Delaware River is the longest undammed U.S. river east of the Mississippi River.

The Delaware River is an interstate boundary its entire length - 330 miles.

The deepest point of the Delaware is the Big Eddy at Narrowsburg, N.Y., at ~113 ft.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was one of the top ten visited national park sites in 2020.

The Delaware River is tidally influenced for over 130 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Trenton, N.J. This section of the river, which includes the cities of Wilmington, Del., Camden, N.J. and Philadelphia, Pa., is known as the Delaware Estuary.

The Delaware River is non-tidal for roughly 200 miles, from Trenton, N.J. north to its headwaters in New York State.

The mean sea level (or river level) for the tidal potion of the Delaware River at Philadelphia has risen about 1 foot over the last 100 years. This rate is expected to increase with climate change.

The Delaware River Basin is home to six National Wild and Scenic River segments: the Upper, Middle and Lower (making ¾ of the non-tidal river designated wild and scenic), as well as the Musconetcong River, Maurice River and White Clay Creek. The White Clay Creek Watershed is the only watershed in the country that is 100% designated as wild and scenic.

The Upper Delaware River Basin is home to a world-class trout fishery.

The Delaware Bay is the principal breeding grounds for American horseshoe crabs on the East Coast.

The Upper Delaware River Basin is one of the largest and most important inland bald eagle wintering habitats in the Northeastern United States.

In New Jersey, about half of all eagle nests are located near the Delaware Bay, in Cumberland and Salem counties and the bayside of Cape May County. In fact, resident bald eagles are found near Delaware River Basin waters in all basin states; improved water quality means more fish, the eagle's favorite food.

There are 60 islands in the Delaware River.

The Importance of the Basin's Water Resources
The delaware River at Philadelphia, Pa. by DRBC.
The Delaware River at Philadelphia, Pa. Photo by DRBC.

Approximately 13.3 million people rely on Delaware River Basin waters (2016 data). This equates to ~4% of the U.S. population.

♦ The Delaware River Basin provides water to two major U.S. cities: Philadelphia, Pa. and New York City. All of Philadelphia’s water comes from the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, and roughly 50% of the water supply for New York City comes from the Delaware River Basin, even though NYC is not in the DRB. In fact, the NYC’s Delaware Aqueduct, the tunnel that brings Delaware River Basin water to the city, is the world's longest tunnel.

♦ Roughly 6.4 billion gallons of water are withdrawn every day from the Delaware River Basin. And, 95% of all water used in the basin is surface water.

♦ The Delaware River Basin is the only river basin in the country with both an interstate-federal commission (the DRBC) and a national estuary program in place.

♦ DRBC’s Special Protection Waters regulations establish an anti-degradation policy on the longest stretch of any river in the nation. The entire non-tidal Delaware River is protected under these regulations.

♦ The Delaware River Basin contributes about $22 billion in economic activity to the region annually and supports 600,000 jobs.

♦ The Delaware River Port Complex of Philadelphia, Camden and Wilmington is the largest freshwater port in the world.

Delaware River Basin History
Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct. Photo courtesy of David B. Soete.
Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct. Photo courtesy of
David B. Soete.

♦ Lenni Lenape have lived here for generations, calling the river "Lenapewihittuk," the river of the Lenape. The Munsee Lenape also were native to the Delaware River Basin. Visit https://native-land.ca/ to learn more.

♦ Henry Hudson arrived at the Delaware River in 1609. Dutch and Swedish settlements called the Delaware River the South River. It was eventually named the Delaware River after Englishman Sir Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr.

♦ Translation of a few tributary names:

     ♦ Schuylkill: Dutch for hidden river

     ♦ Neshaminy: Lenape for place where we drink twice

     ♦ Lackawaxen: Lenape for swift waters

♦ Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct is the oldest surviving wire suspension bridge in the U.S. Located on the upper Delaware River near Lackawaxen, Pa., it was built by John Roebling, future engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge. In the mid-1800s, it was built to carry barges of coal over the Delaware River in order to avoid collisions with the timber rafts floating downriver.

♦ While upon his death in 1790, Ben Franklin included in his will that some of his estate money should be used by Philadelphia to look for cleaner drinking water, it was Benjamin Latrobe who suggested it should be the Schuylkill River. In 1815, the Fairmount Water Works began operation and provided water to Philadelphia residents until 1909.

♦Washington Crossing the Delaware:

     ♦ The crossing started on Christmas Day, 1776 (not Christmas Eve). The Battle of Trenton was December 26, 1776, a significant turning point in the Revolutionary War.

     ♦ Two other crossings were planned by other American generals, but they were abandoned because of the weather.

     ♦ James Monroe was the other U.S. President who crossed the Delaware with Washington, as he was a Captain in Washington’s Army.

     ♦ On the grounds of the Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pa., there is a memorial cemetery along the Delaware River. These graves along the Delaware are thought to be the final resting place for some of America’s first unknown soldiers.

♦ John F. Kennedy signed the Delaware River Basin Compact to create the DRBC early in his term in 1961. At a ceremonial signing event at the White House on November 2, 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, "We are glad to join with Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania in this bold venture. The task set for the Commission will not be easy to achieve, but we are confident that the cooperation that has brought forth this Compact will endure, and that working together real progress can be made for the people of the Basin." This was before other key events he addressed such as: the nation’s space efforts (man on the moon speech); the Cuban Missile crisis; and his speech to the nation on Civil Rights.

Miscellaneous Fun Facts
Paddlers on the Delaware River Sojourn. Photo courtesy of Driftstone Campground.
Paddlers on the Delaware River Sojourn. Photo courtesy
of Driftstone Campground.

♦ The Delaware River Sojourn, a guided paddling and camping trip on the Delaware River is one of the oldest river sojourns in the country. Several other Pennsylvania rivers in the Delaware River Basin also host annual sojourns: the Schuylkill River, the Lehigh River and the Perkiomen Creek.

♦ Did you know that all major and minor league teams throughout the country use mud from the Delaware River Basin on new baseballs to help give pitchers a better grip? It's true! Baseball rubbing mud comes from a New Jersey tidal tributary, but the location is top secret! 

♦ A man named Daniel Skinner was considered the original "Lord High Admiral of the Delaware River." He got this honorary title for riding timber rafts downriver in the spring from the Upper Delaware to Philadelphia. Read more (pdf).

♦ There are at least two islands on the Delaware River that used to house amusement parks: Burlington Island and Easton’s Getter’s Island. The latter is also rumored to be haunted, as Charles Getter was hanged there for murdering his wife. 

♦ On the Lehigh River, an island upstream of the Chain Dam (Smith’s or Uhler’s Island) also housed an amusement park, Island Park; this is now part of Hugh Moore Park.

♦ The Delaware River, or rather an island in the river, is believed to be the reason folks in the Delaware Valley call our sandwiches "hoagies." Hog Island was the world's largest shipyard during World War I. Some of the ship-building workers ate large sandwiches to sustain them through the 12-hour shifts; these sandwiches were referred to as "hoggers" or "hogies," and later, "hoagies." Hog Island is now part of the Philadelphia Airport.

♦ The Delaware River Basin is the home of the official tall ships of both New Jersey and Delaware. New Jersey’s tall ship, the AJ Meerwald, is docked in Bivalve, N.J., and Delaware’s tall ship, the Kalmar Nyckel, is docked in Wilmington, Del. 

♦ According to 2020 Census data, the top five most populous cities in the DRB are: Philadelphia, Pa. (1,603,797), Allentown, Pa. (125,845), Reading, Pa. (95,112), Trenton, N.J. (90,871) and Bethlehem, Pa. (75,781). But, there is another large city that gets roughly 1/2 its water supply from the DRB, but is not in the DRB: New York City (8,804,190)!