Funding for Delaware River Basin Restoration Program Approved amidst Cuts to Critical Environmental Programs

Today, funding for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program advanced amidst cuts to other critical environmental programs. The U.S. House of Representatives approved $1.2 trillion as a package of twelve bills to appropriate funds for many government programs. The package, HR 3354, specified funding for Departments of Interior, EPA, NOAA and other related and unrelated agencies. Cuts to critical programs as well as riders which will weaken environmental protections were included. If approved, this spending package could harm public health, natural resources and habitat by cutting funding for many critical programs. Some of those proposed cuts include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a cut of more than $500 million and cuts to climate change research among many others.

Photograph by Ben Timmy

Photograph by Ben Timmy

A bright spot in a sea of proposed cuts to critical environmental programs was support for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program which cleared the next major benchmark in the lengthy and complicated federal budgeting process. This marks the first time funding for a program dedicated to the entire Delaware River Watershed has been approved in either chamber of Congress.

“While we are gravely concerned about proposed environmental program cuts, support for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program is a big step for the watershed,” remarked Kelly Mooij, VP of Government Relations at New Jersey Audubon and Steering Committee Co-Chair of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “Since the founding of the Coalition in 2012, our goal has been to establish and secure funding for a federal program aimed at conserving the region’s natural resources. We will continue to support funding for this program as well as many of the critical agencies that protect and steward our Delaware River.”

The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program was created following passage of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act in December 2016. The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, which unites organizations working throughout the river basin to share information and advocate for a healthy watershed, led a successful collective effort in the region to promote passage of the Conservation Act last year.

“This type of program is a good investment for the entire river basin,” added Jeff Skelding, Executive Director of Friends of the Upper Delaware River, which serves as the Coalition’s state outreach lead in New York. “Funding for the program will leverage private dollars that are supporting locally-led projects throughout the watershed including the Upper Delaware Region.”

The non-regulatory program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will identify, prioritize, and implement conservation projects throughout the watershed while supporting these efforts through technical assistance and grants. The House Appropriations bill provides $5 million for fiscal year 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017, though negotiations will likely continue passed the start of the new fiscal year. Congress has passed a continuing resolution to keep funding at current levels through Dec. 8.

Since the program’s establishment late last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been hard at work developing a framework for the restoration program in partnership with stakeholders from the region. The Service recently launched a new webpage for the program, which can be viewed here: https://www.fws.gov/northeast/delawareriver/.

“It has been encouraging to see the Fish and Wildlife Service collaborating closely with organizations and agencies, including the Coalition, already working in the river basin to build on those efforts,” said Mark Zakutansky, Director of Conservation Policy Engagement with the Appalachian Mountain Club. “Once funded, this program can truly get off the ground and begin supporting critical conservation work throughout the watershed.”

The Coalition will continue to mobilize its members and partners throughout the region to lead efforts to advance funding for the restoration program in Congress. It is now up to the Senate to approve funding for the program.

Delaware River Featured in New Contest to Promote Local Stories and Photos for a Chance to Win Prizes

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), in collaboration with the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, and the Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, has launched the “Delaware River Means” campaign. This online photo and story entry contest focuses on the benefits and experiences around the Delaware River Watershed, aiming to engage residents of and visitors to the Watershed in appreciating its unique qualities.

The Delaware River Means campaign consists of four contests, each focusing on one distinct characteristic of the Delaware River Watershed: fun, beauty, togetherness, and history. Participants may enter a photo and story relating to one or all of those themes, with chances to win a variety of prizes. Throughout the contests, participants will be able to share their story and photo on social media with the tag #DelawareRiverMeans, encouraging their friends and family to click the “I’m Inspired” button on their entry. The most inspiring entry will win a specially curated prize for that contest, with a retail value of approximately $500. In addition, any person who signs up to learn more or enters any of the four contests will be entered to win a stand-up paddleboard as a grand prize, and entered to win a weekly T-shirt giveaway.

The “Fun” contest will be featured first, launching in July 2017. A winner will be announced in the fall of 2017. The voting period for “Beauty” begins in winter 2017, “Togetherness” in spring 2018, and “History” in summer 2018. Entries may be uploaded to any of the four contests at any time prior to their winner’s announcements.

Funding for the Delaware River Means campaign comes from the William Penn Foundation.

Everyone who enters, votes, shares, or opts-in has a chance to win a t-shirt.

Everyone who enters, votes, shares, or opts-in has a chance to win a t-shirt.

This project aims to build a greater constituency for watershed protection surrounding the Delaware River Watershed, implemented through outreach to outdoor recreation communities. Delaware River Means hopes to engage at least 1,000 recreationists in celebrating the Delaware River Watershed and further engaging these users in conservation programs, events, and action moving forward. The campaign and its related contests will run through the beginning of 2019.

For more information and to enter any of the four contests, visit https://delawarerivermeans.com/.

EPA Moves to Rollback Clean Water Protections

Today, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency is moving forward with a rule to rescind the 2015 Clean Water Rule. The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, led by New Jersey Audubon and National Wildlife Federation, and its partners are deeply dismayed by this action. Repealing the Clean Water Rule threatens the water resources of the entire nation, including the Delaware River Watershed, which supplies clean and reliable drinking water to over 15 million people.

Conservation in the Delaware at Stake in Trump Administration Budget Proposal

President Trump released a more detailed budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 recommending severe cuts to the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other areas. If enacted, these reductions would result in the elimination of funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Chesapeake Bay Program, and other geographic watershed programs, as well as the National Estuary Program and critical water quality research and support grants that go directly to the states. This would halt critical work around the country that has shown real success in protecting, preserving, and restoring our nation’s waters.

Firm stance on Flexible Flow Management Plan could have big impacts for the Delaware River

The management of the New York City Delaware River reservoirs near the top of the watershed has many implications for the entire basin. Water releases from the reservoirs are used to meet downstream flow targets, repel the northward migration of the salt front from the Delaware Bay, maximize recreational opportunities, and ensure healthy aquatic habitat.