Liam Patrick O’Connor awarded 2016 Edward W. Cooch, Jr. Environmental Scholarship

Left to right:  Dr. Michael Valenti, Liam O’Connor, The Hon. Richard Cooch, Joanne Rufft.

Left to right: Dr. Michael Valenti, Liam O’Connor, The Hon. Richard Cooch, Joanne Rufft.

Download: 2016 Cooch Scholarship Press Release (PDF)

NEWARK – On June 7, 2016, the Christina Conservancy Board, members of the Christina River Cleanup Committee, members of the Cooch family, and others celebrated the awarding of the 2016 Edward W. (Ned) Cooch, Jr. Environmental Scholarship to Liam Patrick O’Connor of Camden, Delaware.

Joanne Rufft, board vice president and chairman of the Scholarship Committee said “Liam was selected as this year’s winner because of his commitment to the environment, his excellent community service, his plan to major in geosciences at Princeton University with a major emphasis on climate change. While at Caesar Rodney High School, Liam earned a 4.0 grade point average.”

Liam’s Boy Scout advisor, Dr. Michael Valenti, told the gathering about Liam’s outstanding performance as winner of the coveted William T. Hornaday Silver Medal, Scouting’s highest award.  According to Dr. Valenti, “Liam essentially conceptualized, planned, and carried out no fewer than four Eagle Scout-quality conservation projects and provided the opportunity for scouts to earn literally over 1,100 service hours.

O’Connor said, “I believe that we as humans have an obligation to protect and preserve nature. Moreover, when our activities become destructive for the environment, it is our duty to mitigate their effects. For this reason, I will focus my studies on the most pressing environmental issues of the present day: climate change.”  Following college, O’Connor hopes to earn a doctorate and be a research scientist continuing his work in the broad areas of global climate change such as glaciology.

The celebration was graciously hosted by the Cooch Family at the historical Cooch residence at Cooch’s Bridge, on Old Baltimore Pike in Newark, Delaware.  Cooch Family members attending were the Hon. Richard Cooch, Superior Court Judge and his wife Barbara.

In his welcoming remarks, Richard Cooch told the gathering about the rich history of his home and Cooch’s Bridge dating back to 1746, including the popularly held belief that the Betsy Ross American flag was first flown in battle at the Revolutionary War battle of Cooch’s Bridge in 1777.  He spoke of his father Ned’s great passion for the environment and land preservation.  His father preserved 200 acres around the family home including Cooch’s Bridge and the grist mill (Dayett Mill).  Judge Cooch said, “Considering my father’s undying concern for the environment, this Edward W. Cooch, Jr. Environmental scholarship is a wonderful way to honor him and his accomplishments, not the least of which was his unwavering support of the Christina Conservancy through the years, which is dedicated to preserving and protecting the Christina River.”


Scholarship eligibility and selection criteria follow:



  1. Must be applying to a properly accredited junior college, college, or university for the fall semester 2012;
  2. Must be a Delaware resident;
  3. Must be a senior in a Delaware high school or returning veteran of the U.S. armed services;
  4. Must have a grade point average of 3.0 or greater;
  5. Must major in an environmental field of study;
  6. Must demonstrate an interest in the environment (example: participate in cleanups, engage in school Eco-club projects, elect to take environmental classes).


Selection Criteria

  • The recipient will have a strong interest in the natural environment and water resources and will have demonstrated this interest through engagement in the community in these areas.
  • The recipient will clearly communicate academic and career goals as it relates to the natural environment and water resources.
  • The scholarship will be awarded to a student with a grade point average of 3.0 or greater.


Interviews with Liam O’Connor may be requested by contacting:

Anne Fitzgerald

Christina Conservancy Board Member



The Christina Conservancy was established in 1982 to improve the water quality and to protect the river’s natural and historic resources.  The Christina Conservancy is an all volunteer membership organization (501(c) 3 operated by a board of directors of local citizens.

“The State of the Christina River”

Read the “State of the Christina River” courtesy of the Delaware Nature Society’s website

By Guest Blogger: Martha Corrozi Narvaez

Associate Policy Scientist, Water Resources Agency, Institute for Public Administration, University of Delaware

On an unseasonably warm Sunday in February I walked hand-in-hand with my 4-year old son along Wilmington’s riverwalk that parallels the magnificent Christina River. As we walked we passed by couples, families, runners, and people of all types with the musings of ice skaters in the background. My son and I talked about the ducks swimming by, the swift current carrying sticks and other debris and the “mean people” that littered their bottles and trash in the river. I couldn’t help but think that just a few years ago I would not have been able to share this experience with him. I am fortunate to share such an experience with him and I also feel fortunate that I understand the complexity and state of this river.

Christina River on a warm winter day.

Christina River on a warm winter day.

It is easy to see that the Christina River has undergone an urban renaissance resulting in the Chase Center, Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, Christina Riverwalk, a variety of restaurants, high-rise residential buildings, the Blue Rocks stadium, and the DuPont Environmental Education Center’s wildlife refuge. This growth is spurred by people’s desire to be near the water and the aesthetic qualities it provides, yet beyond this beauty there is a complex, natural system at work.

The headwaters of the Christina River lie within the state of Maryland and enter Delaware west of Newark. The White Clay, Red Clay, and Brandywine creeks are tributaries of the Christina River. The Christina River is freshwater yet tidal from just south of the town of Christiana to its confluence with the Delaware River at Wilmington. Extensive tidal freshwater wetlands, including Churchmans Marsh, exist along the lower Christina. The majority of the Christina River watershed is located in New Castle County (DE). The Christina River is a mostly urbanized watershed with over 50% of the land cover developed. The watershed is the site of the Port of Wilmington, an important shipping link, and one of the largest importers of orange juice, Chilean grapes, bananas, and automobiles nationally.

Wilmington's Christina Riverfront

Wilmington’s Christina Riverfront

The Christina River has its share of historic contamination. There are numerous contaminated sites bordering the river. Samples have indicated that there are toxics present at elevated levels in the water bodies of the Christina River watershed and fish consumption advisories have been posted for the river. According to the USEPA’s water quality standards the Delaware portion of the Christina River requires varying levels of pollution reduction for nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria.

Although the Christina River has fallen victim to years of industry, improper land use and anthropogenic influences the story of the river is a positive one. The state is working diligently to clean up and redevelop the toxic sites along the river. The Christina River is also demonstrating improving trends for many water quality parameters. According to a recent article on water quality trends in Delaware’s streams by Gerald Kauffman and Andrew Belden, water quality trend analysis for long term (1970/1980-2005) and short-term (1990-2005) trends show improvement in the Christina River for numerous water quality parameters including: dissolved oxygen (DO), total suspended sediment (TSS), total phosphorus (TP), and total Kjedahl nitrogen (TKN). Positive trends for these parameters indicate improving conditions in the river. Additional parameters, including bacteria, which levels have historically been increasing, show a leveling off for long-term and short-terms trends over this same time period, another good news story.

We know that the Christina River is not a pristine, natural river system yet research shows that there are positive signs for the health of the water body. The efforts by so many locally, state-wide and regionally to improve the water quality has had a positive impact. And as the riverfront becomes more popular and a destination in the region, it is my hope that individuals will learn more about the river and help protect this valuable resource through individual stewardship. And over the years as I continue to walk along the riverfront I will feel fortunate to be able to share this river, which inspires and motivates me, with so many people, especially my son.

Join us at DEEC on April 16 at 3:30pm for National Water Dance to celebrate the Christina River through dance performances and exploration of the marsh for the wildlife calling it home.

To find out more about efforts to improve and protect our waters or how you can have impact, check out the Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice campaign website, Facebook, or Twitter!


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