A watcher for waterways

Jeffrey Featherstone is in charge of Temple’s research on the management of stormwater in the city. 

Featherstone leads Temple’s stormwater research. | courtesy JEFFREY FEATHERSTONE
Featherstone leads Temple’s stormwater research. | courtesy JEFFREY FEATHERSTONE
Featherstone leads Temple’s stormwater research. | courtesy JEFFREY FEATHERSTONE
Featherstone leads Temple’s stormwater research. | courtesy JEFFREY FEATHERSTONE

Jeffrey Featherstone has always been passionate about water. He grew up in Winona, Minn., on a small island on the Mississippi River. 

“As a kid, I would swim in the river,” Featherstone said. “I was always concerned about water quality because it was so poor back then.”

Featherstone is the principal investigator for the recent four-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which will be used to evaluate stormwater management controls and practices at Temple.

Before moving to Philadelphia, Featherstone was a research specialist at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and the director of planning for the Upper Mississippi River Basin Commission. In December 1981, Featherstone took a job with the Delaware River Basin Commission, which allocates the flow of water in the Delaware River and Delaware Bay and manages the area’s water resources.

The relationship with that waterway prompted him to move to Philadelphia. Eventually, Featherstone became the deputy executive director at the Delaware River Basin Commission.

In 1992, Featherstone advised President-elect Bill Clinton on national water policy and sustainability as a member of Long’s Peak Working Group. Clinton’s senior environmental policy Adviser selected Featherstone for the job.

“There were probably 30 to 35 working groups set up to create policy agendas for topics as varied as water, to healthcare, to education reform,” Featherstone said. “I worked on one of them.”

Three years later, the head of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation selected Featherstone to serve as a ranking member of the U.S. Water Resources Delegation to China.

Featherstone said he was selected because of his role on the Delaware River Basin Commission and his work advocating water conservation and water resources management in several national organizations, like the American Water Works association.

“I was the Eastern expert,” Featherstone said.

Since then, Featherstone has returned to China more than six times to advise Chinese government officials on issues of water conservation and sustainability. In 2001, he retired from the Delaware River Basin Commission and joined Temple as the director of the Center for Sustainable Communities.

The work Featherstone does at Temple is unlike his past work, he said.

“I’m spending most of my time evaluating policies, programs and projects as to their effectiveness and performance rather than advocating for change or writing new regulations,” he said. “I enjoy research and teaching, which I couldn’t do working for government agencies.”

Featherstone said he sees important changes on the horizon for both Temple and Philadelphia, since both are striving to promote a more green lifestyle.

Because Philadelphia is an old city, Featherstone said it has combined sewer overflows, which lead to water pollution of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. Featherstone said the recent grant from the EPA would help.

“As an alternative to expanding pipes and underground chambers, the city elected to green the city and capture the first few inches of rainfall and getting it into the ground,” Featherstone said. “If you can do this, you can deal with most of your combined sewer overflow problems for a lot less money and provide benefits that the typical gray infrastructure wouldn’t provide.”

Associate professor Lynn Mandarano, along with professor Laura Toran and associate professor Mark Weir, are also investigating the recent stormwater management project.

“We’re going to be working to assess how the city of Philadelphia has improved their clean water program to date,” Mandarano said.

Mandarano, who has previously worked with Featherstone, said he recently secured $2 million from the William Penn Foundation to look at stormwater management in suburban watersheds. The project will likely prove to be a challenge for Featherstone.

“When you work in water and particularly interstate water issues, you’re bound to be involved in negotiation and dispute resolution,” Featherstone said. “There’s too much water or too little water, and what one state or community does affects people downstream.”

Claire Sasko can be reached at claire.sasko@temple.edu. 

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