Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Jeff Featherstone, Temple professor

Jeff Featherstone, 68, of Media, a Temple University research professor and an international expert on water use and management, died Saturday, May 7, of an infection at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

Jeffrey Featherstone
Jeffrey FeatherstoneRead moreCLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

Jeff Featherstone, 68, of Media, a Temple University research professor and an international expert on water use and management, died Saturday, May 7, of an infection at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

In a statement marking his death, the university wrote: "Jeff Featherstone's life's work was to make the world a better place than he found it. Every job, every project, every workshop and conference he participated in bore witness to that goal."

Although Dr. Featherstone was based at Temple's Ambler campus, his influence in water resources management and dispute resolution was felt as far away as China and the Mideast.

Last June, he led an international team of planners to the West Bank and Gaza, with the aim of advising officials about water use in the watershed shared by Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Syria, and Egypt.

"Due to the volatility of the region, a great deal of the urban infrastructure in many areas of Gaza and the West Bank is in a constant state of disrepair," Dr. Featherstone told the Temple News before the trip. "The water and sewer lines and transportation corridors in Gaza are essentially nonfunctioning."

Dr. Featherstone said that with most of the river's water diverted for farming and urban use, the aquifer had been tainted by saltwater.

"Fortunately, recent strides made by the Israelis in desalination and wastewater reuse have greatly increased supplies for urban and agricultural uses, but those additional supplies are the subject of heightened disputes," he told the News. His aim, he said, was to train locals in how to cooperate on rebuilding the water and sewer lines and other infrastructure.

In 2001, Dr. Featherstone joined Temple's Ambler campus, now the School of Environmental Design. He rose from professor to chair of the department of community and regional planning in 2002, the same year that the department began offering undergraduate and graduate degree courses in environmental subjects.

He spent 15 years as director of Temple's Center for Sustainable Communities. In that role, Dr. Featherstone undertook several ambitious projects that crossed municipal and political borders.

He helped lead a study of the Pennypack Creek watershed in Southeast Pennsylvania that caused the Federal Emergency Management Agency to remap the flood plains within a 12-municipality region.

At the time of his death, he was guiding a comprehensive study of storm-water management in Philadelphia and five watersheds throughout the region. The project was underwritten by grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the William Penn Foundation.

He also led a program to educate the public in the need to adopt shower heads and toilets that use less water. Gradually implemented, the program has led to a reduction in water use in the Delaware Valley.

Susan Spinella Sacks, the Temple center's assistant director, said Dr. Featherstone was a generous mentor during the 14 years they worked together.

"We were a team, and I feel so lucky to have worked with him. He was the best mentor a person could ask for. He made us all feel like we were part of - not just a team, but a family," she said.

Born in Red Wing and reared in Winona, both in Minnesota, Dr. Featherstone graduated from Winona High School and the University of Minnesota. He earned a master's degree from Rider University and a doctorate in public policy from Temple.

Before coming to Philadelphia, he worked as a hydrologist and planner with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and for the Upper Mississippi River Basin Commission in St. Paul, Minn. He was a former deputy executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission.

Rick Fromuth, a senior research associate who worked with Dr. Featherstone at the Delaware River commission and then rejoined him at Temple eight years ago, said Dr. Featherstone had a magnetic personality - friendly, with a sense of humor.

"That was why he was so effective. He made you feel you were his friend," Fromuth said. "If you take the example of going into a room where no one knows one another, Jeff would be the perfect moderator to put people at ease."

Dr. Featherstone was active in the International Society of City and Regional Planners. In 2013, he chaired the society's annual conference in Brisbane, Australia.

In 1992, Dr. Featherstone served on then-President-elect Bill Clinton's advisory board on national water policy and sustainability. The group's report, "America's Waters: A New Era of Sustainability," set the agenda for the Clinton administration's policy on water use.

In 1995, he was a member of the U.S. Water Resources Delegation that advised the Chinese government on water conservation.

"Jeff's expertise was internationally recognized, though his Midwestern modesty prevented him from ever thinking of himself in those terms," Temple officials wrote in the statement marking his death.

He and his wife, Nancy, lived in Media, where they reared two daughters.

He was active in Strath Haven High School's A Better Chance Scholar Program, serving as a host father to Doyinsola Oladipo, a New Jersey native whose parents came from Nigeria.

Mr. Featherstone's favorite pastimes were sailing with the Perth Amboy Yacht Club in his boat, Feng Shui, traveling the world, and savoring fine wines.

Besides his wife of 41 years, he is survived by twin daughters Lia and Lin, and a brother and sister.

Plans for a memorial gathering were pending.

Temple has established a scholarship in his memory. The funds will be used to support a graduate student in the Master of Science in City and Regional Planning degree program who shares Dr. Featherstone's passion for sustainable water resources management.

Donations may be made to the Jeffrey Featherstone Memorial Scholarship, Tyler School of Art, Temple University, 2001 N. 13th St., Philadelphia 19122.