Clean Water for Delaware: A Collaborative Approach

Clean Water for Delaware: A Collaborative Approach

By Laura Miller, Outreach Coordinator, Delaware Nature Society

 June 2018 Clean Water Rally in Wilmington, DE

June 2018 Clean Water Rally in Wilmington, DE

Water shapes the State of Delaware. From the bustling city-scape of Wilmington to the quaint store fronts of Bethany Beach; the headwaters of Nanticoke to the Delaware Bay, water plays an important role in Delaware’s economy, health, and environment. The second smallest state is home to 25 miles of coastline, 500 square miles of wetlands, 540 square miles of bay, 2,900 acres of lakes and ponds, and 4,500 miles of rivers and streams. With a geography knitted together by waterways, Delaware’s waters provide $7 billion to the regional economy, 70,000 jobs, and $2 billion in wages. Why, then, is Delaware facing substantial water quality and flooding issues?

90 percent of our waterways in Delaware are considered polluted due to excess nutrients (like nitrogen and phosphorous) and legacy toxins. 100 miles of our waters have fish consumption advisories. One acre of precious wetlands is collectively lost in the Delaware region every day. With such startling figures looming overhead, Delaware still faces a $100 million deficit annually for projects that could bring our water quality up to state and federal standards.


Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice Campaign (The Clean Water Campaign) is addressing that deficit by educating Delawareans on their role in improving water quality through at home practices and advocating for increased funding to elected officials.

Within the first year of the Clean Water Campaign, the Clean Water and Flood Abatement Task Force was created to investigate the causes of water quality problems and recommend potential funding mechanisms the state could employ. The Task Force was comprised of business, environmental, and academic leaders. After two years of research, the Task Force published its findings and recommendations in its final report. The report included draft legislation that became the Clean Water for Delaware Act (HB 270), which outlined a sliding scale income tax and business license fee. HB 270 was introduced and heard by the House Natural Resources Committee where, despite great public support, the bill was tabled to iron out the details for a funding structure.

Although our legislation was prevented from moving forward, legislators and Governor John Carney showed supporters that their voices did not go unheard. In the budget for Fiscal Year 2019 (July 2018 – June 2019), $10 million was included for clean water projects -- the most funding clean water initiatives have received in decades. This was in addition to fully funding both the Open Space and Farmland Preservation Programs at $10 million apiece for a total of 30 million conservation dollars in Delaware’s budget! We are celebrating this success and will use it as motivation to continue advocating for dedicated and sustainable clean water funding.

Delaware is not alone in this fight. States across the country, and in the Delaware River Watershed, are struggling to find sustainable funding mechanisms to address increasing threats to clean water. And, with water knowing no boundaries, we recognize we must take a regional approach to fund failing infrastructure, abate flooding, and protect wildlife habitat. Nowhere is this more evident than in Delaware. The most “down river” state in the Delaware River Watershed, we understand the importance of working with our neighbors.

Organizations like Delaware Nature Society and alliances like our Clean Water Campaign rely on regional coalitions such as the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed to expand our efforts beyond the state line and leverage the collective knowledge and skills of our neighbors to meet our shared common goal of an even better Delaware River Watershed for our future generations. On both the state and federal level, now is the time for more sustainable clean water funding.

The Delaware River Makes "History": Meet The Final Winner In The Delaware River Means Photo Contest

The fluttering sound of laughter rising over the splashing of water, the satisfaction of finding the perfect spot to pitch a tent that gives you a vibrant view of the sunset along the river, the stories told by campfire that you’ll forget in the morning but meant so much in the moment-- these are all memories. While one may not find these memories listed in any text book, they all make up one’s own personal history.

Trees for Trout: Ashokan-Pepacton Trout Unlimited Improves Habitat for Delaware River Fish

This story is about planting trees along the East Branch Delaware River on October 20. First, I want to tell the tale of how a few dedicated tree planters got out on a cold, rainy October day. It started three years ago with a Letter to the Editor in the Catskill Mountain News by local fishing guide Lenny Millen. He reasoned that the poor trout fishery in the East Branch above the Pepacton Reservoir, was due to an old silted-in millpond (Wawaka Lake) that caused thermal impairments downstream on a 13 mile stretch of the river – especially during the warm summer months. It made a lot of sense and I contacted Lenny and a friendship and a partnership has developed since.

Collaborating, Elevating, and Advocating at the 6th Annual Delaware River Watershed Forum

There’s strength in numbers and power in working together. This is what we believe at the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, and why we invite all 131 of our member organizations to our annual Delaware River Watershed Forum. Going on its 6th year, the Forum took place on September 25-26 in Cape May, NJ. Over 240 attendees joined us to share information, build new relationships, and coordinate to drive a collective vision to protect and steward the Delaware River Basin’s natural resources. Topics emphasized this year included Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and National Wildlife Federation’s 4theDelaware campaign.

Congressman Boyle and Coalition Support Increased Funding for Pennsylvania’s Waterways

Congressman Brendan Boyle, the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, Riverfront North Partnership, Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, and Pennsylvania Environmental Council gathered for a press conference in Lardner’s Point Park on October 24, 2018 to advocate for 2019 federal funding for Delaware River Basin states, including Pennsylvania. The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) received $5 million for fiscal year 2018 and stakeholders are now encouraging Congress to increase the funding to $6 million for fiscal year 2019. On September 28th, Congress did not vote on the fiscal year 2019 Department of Interior bill, which contains DRBRP funding.  Instead, Congress passed a continuing resolution, giving them until December 7th to act.

6th Annual Delaware River Forum Unites Conservation Organizations in Cape May

The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed held its 6th Annual Delaware River Watershed Forum in Cape May, NJ on September 25th and 26th. About 250 people attended the two-day event, which provided a platform to share information and learn about a variety of efforts underway to protect the Delaware River Watershed. The Forum focused on how to mobilize around issues and policies that impact the watershed to ensure a healthy river basin for future generations. Additionally, the Forum delved into how to reach new audiences and ensure all underrepresented, underserved, and overburdened communities share equitable access and benefits of clean water.

Celebrating 50 Years of National Wild & Scenic Rivers: Wild & Scenic Film Festival Comes to Hackettstown, NJ

The National Wild & Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Fewer than ¼ of 1% of all river miles in the United States are given the “National Wild & Scenic” designation. Therefore, it's notable that the the Delaware River Watershed has six National Wild & Scenic Rivers: the Upper Delaware, the Middle Delaware, the Lower Delaware, the Maurice River, the Musconetcong River, and the White Clay Creek Watershed. The Delaware River's main stem has 60% (180.7 miles) of its 301 miles designated as National Wild & Scenic.

No Room for Mistakes on New York’s Upper Delaware River

It could have been far worse. The Upper Delaware River dodged a bullet this August when heavy rains and flooding washed out a railroad culvert, and a 63-car train carrying an assortment of waste materials, some of it toxic, derailed near Deposit, NY. Two rail cars plunged into the West Branch of the Delaware, home to one of the East Coast’s most prolific wild trout fisheries. An estimated 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the train’s punctured gas tanks into the river, leading to widespread reports of strong fuel odors and visible slicks for 30 miles downstream.