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Basin Information
 Illustration of the Delaware River Basin.

The Delaware is the longest un-dammed river in the United States east of the Mississippi, extending 330 miles from the confluence of its East and West branches at Hancock, N.Y. to the mouth of the Delaware Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The river is fed by 216 major tributaries, the largest being the Schuylkill and Lehigh Rivers in Pennsylvania. It is tidal from the Delaware Bay to Trenton, N.J.; from Trenton north to its headwaters in N.Y., the river is non-tidal.

In all, the basin contains 13,539 square miles, including the 782 square-mile Delaware Bay. It drains parts of:

---Pennsylvania (6,422 square miles or 50.3 percent of the basin's total land area);
---New Jersey (2,969 square miles, or 23.3%);
---New York (2,362 square miles, 18.5%); and
---Delaware (1,004 square miles, 7.9%).

The Delaware River Basin includes four states, 42 counties, and 838 municipalities. It is an interstate river its entire length; whenever you are on its bank, you are looking across at another state.

Just over 13 million people (about four percent of the nation's population) rely on the waters of the Delaware River Basin for drinking, agricultural, and industrial use, but the watershed drains only four-tenths of one percent of the total continental U.S. land area. The 13.3 million figure includes about 5 million people in New York City and northern New Jersey who live outside the basin. New York City gets roughly half its water from three large reservoirs located on tributaries to the Delaware.

Three reaches of the non-tidal Delaware River are included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, totaling 75% of this section of river protected by this Congressional designation. In addition, the White Clay Creek, draining parts of Pa. and Del., is included in the system, the only river to be protected in its entirety. Sections of the Maurice River in New Jersey (a Delaware Bay tributary) and the Musconetcong River in New Jersey (a Delaware River tributary) are also part of the national system. According to the National Park Service's web site, the U.S. has 3.5 million miles of rivers, but only 12,734 river miles (~0.35%) are included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

The Delaware Estuary -- the Delaware Bay and tidal reach of the Delaware River -- has been included in the National Estuary Program, a project set up to protect estuarine systems of national significance.

The Delaware has come a long way from its polluted past in the late 1800s to mid 1900s, and its clean-up is hailed as one of the world's top water quality success stories. The river now supports year-round fish populations, as well as those returning to their natal waters to spawn, for example, the American shadBald eagles, which depend on fish as their primary food source, reside and nest throughout the basin from the river's New York headwaters to the Delaware Bay. Pleasure craft marinas line waterfronts once visited only by commercial vessels, and river-based recreation is one of the region's top economic sources. The river and many of its tributaries are flanked by attractive greenways and parks. Officially designated water trails exist for the non-tidal and a portion of the tidal Delaware River, as well as Pennsylvania's Lehigh and Schuylkill rivers, the two largest tributaries to the Delaware.

The Delaware is also a working river, providing numerous economic benefits to the region. The Delaware River Port Complex (including docking facilities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware) is the largest freshwater port in the world. According to testimony submitted to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in 2005, the port complex generates $19 billion in annual economic activity. It is one of only 14 strategic ports in the nation transporting military supplies and equipment by vessel to support our troops overseas. The Delaware River and Bay is home to the third largest petrochemical port as well as five of the largest east coast refineries. Nearly 42 million gallons of crude oil are moved on the Delaware River on a daily basis. There are approximately 3,000 deep draft vessel arrivals each year and it is the largest receiving port in the United States for Very Large Crude Carriers (tank ships greater than 125,000 deadweight tons). It is the largest North American port for steel, paper, and meat imports as well as the largest importer of cocoa beans and fruit on the east coast. Over 65% of Chilean and other South American fruits imported into the United States arrive at terminal facilities in the tri-state port complex. Wilmington, Delaware is home to the largest U.S. banana importing port, handling over one million tons of this cargo annually from Central America. According to Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara, District Commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District, "The port is critical not only to the region, but also to the nation."