Photo Credit: Jerry Monkman

From the Ground Up: May 2016

A Delaware Watershed Moment

Peter and Mark Ruffalo at Penn EventMark Ruffalo in the stream, Penn Event 2016

A day spent in and on the Delaware Watershed with the Penn Foundation and advocate Mark Ruffalo


Spending the day as a panelist, stream monitor and participant in OSI’s new A Watershed Moment movie screening, actor and clean water activist, Mark Ruffalo, was in Philadelphia to support the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, a coalition of 50+ groups including the Open Space Institute, and to raise awareness about the need for more and better data about water quality.



May 2016 - Mark Ruffalo had moved his young family to upstate New York to help his children connect with the natural world when he heard that fracking might be coming to the Delaware. Concerned about potential water contamination, he helped lead the grassroots effort to ban fracking in New York State, becoming in his own words “an accidental environmentalist.”Last week, Ruffalo raised his voice for another transformative effort, joining the William Penn Foundation, OSI and other partners in the effort to raise awareness about water quality in the Delaware Watershed.

“We succeeded because we found a way to work together around our common interests, because everyone cares about water,” said Ruffalo, a three-time Oscar nominee who has become a national advocate for clean water, told a group of watershed leaders. “It’s when people come together that they can accomplish what they sometimes think isn’t possible.”

Spending the day as a panelist, stream monitor and participant in OSI’s new A Watershed Moment movie screening, Ruffalo was in Philadelphia on May 9 to support the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, a coalition of over 50 groups, including OSI, and to raise awareness about the need for more and better data about water quality.

Panel at William Penn

Peter Howell (4th from the left) moderates a discussion with Mark and watershed partners.

In a panel with nonprofit leaders, Ruffalo brought a message of hope forged in the fracking fight. Together, the panelists discussed efforts to protect large tracts of forestland in the Poconos; restore floodplains in the New Jersey Highlands; engage residents in Philadelphia’s suburbs to reduce storm water run-off; stop the proposed Penn East pipeline that is to bisect the basin; and work with farmers to implement more water-friendly farming practices.

Earlier in the day, the actor donned gaiters to monitor water quality in Tookany Creek with staff at the Academy of Natural Science and the Tookany Tacony Frankfort Partnership. When he emerged, he underscored the need for looking holistically at the entire 13,500-acre Delaware River basin.

Mark Ruffalo in the stream, Penn Event 2016

Ruffalo with water monitors in Tookany Creek, PA

“I live along the Delaware River. A lot of people don’t understand that a lot of these waterways are connected, so what’s happening here is happening downstream. It’s happening in my community,” he said.

He also spent the evening at the Academy of Natural Sciences for a screening of A Watershed Moment, a film directed by Academy Award-winning director Tom Lennon that was developed in conjunction with the Open Space Space Institute (link to film), and was interviewed by Laura Sparks, executive director of the William Penn Foundation.

Laura Sparks and Mark Ruffalo before film discussion

In lauding Mark as “a fellow friend of the Upper Delaware,” OSI’s President and CEO Kim Elliman described OSI’s work protecting the Beaverkill and Willewemoc watersheds in the Catskills, and the Delaware Watershed Protection Fund, which is helping to facilitate 14,000 acres of important watershed lands in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Elliman hailed Ruffalo for the range of his acting performances, and his commitment to protecting the environment.

“Mark has raised public awareness about the threats to water quality, and the need for more testing as well as greater public accountability and commitment to ensuring clean water for all,” Elliman said.

Ruffalo traces his environmental activism to growing up along the shores of Lake Michigan in the seventies and seeing the effects of pollution, including tumors in fish. But the galvanizing event was the prospect of fracking for natural gas near his home along the Delaware, and concern about the health of his kids.

Laura Sparks and Mark Ruffalo

Laura Sparks interviews Mark Ruffalo at A Watershed Event

“I wanted my kids to be able to run out the door and into a creek, pond or swam, catch salamanders and frogs and fish,” he told the audience of 350 gathered at the Academy of Natural Science. “And we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of this struggle.”

If fracking made Ruffalo an “accidental environmentalist,” it also helped him to see the unifying power of water. “Water transcends all political, ideological boundaries. I immediately saw it as a place where you could bring people together,” he said. “No one would say it’s worth contaminating our water.”

Realizing that it’s not enough just to say “no,” Ruffalo has founded a nonprofit, Water Defense, which seeks to equip communities with data about water quality. He also helped found the Solutions Project, which is promoting the transition to 100% clean, renewable energy.

Asked how climate change might affect water quality, Ruffalo offered a dark assessment – with a silver lining. “Climate change is this impossible monster that will eventually bring us all together,” he said. “It’s not going to get better, it will only get worse. Water will be defining aspect of climate change as far as it relates to human life – with drought, flood, contamination, lack of water. The more we do to protect this resource in the Delaware, the stronger and more resilient this place will be.”

He hailed the Delaware River Watershed Initiative for its comprehensiveness and emphasis on using data to drive action.

“It’s exciting what’s happening here. This model you’re working here will be adopted everywhere else. We’re understanding the system, we know where the problems are, and you’re using data to determine what to do,” he said. “I think you’re in a really beautiful position here.”

Mark wrapped up his remarks with a call to action for the audience and residents within the basin.

"Anyone can experience the transformative power of fighting for clean water," he said, noting that the experience has “opened up my life as a father, an artist and community member.”


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