On December 16, 2016, President Obama officially signed the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA) into law as part of a larger legislative package known as the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation (WIIN) Act. The WIIN Act passed earlier this month with an overwhelming majority in both chambers of Congress and will provide over $10 billion in federal investment for water resources and infrastructure projects nationally, including this critical authorization for the Delaware River Basin.
The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, which lead the charge in advocacy for the DRBCA, celebrates the enactment of this historic legislation for the region. Uniting nearly 100 non-governmental organizations working throughout the region, the DRBCA has been a top priority for the Coalition since its founding in 2012.
“From its early days as the nexus of our nation’s fight for independence to today as the provider of clean drinking water for five percent of our nation, the Delaware River has always held immense significance for the United States,” said Madeline Urbish, Director of the Coalition. “We are thrilled to see clean water and the Delaware River Basin prioritized in the final days of this administration and receive the national recognition it deserves.”
The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act establishes the non-regulatory Delaware River Basin Restoration Program within U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to identify, prioritize, and implement restoration and protection projects throughout the watershed while supporting locally-led projects through technical assistance and a new grant program.
“The program’s dedicated funding will provide critical support for habitat restoration, water quality improvements, and public access projects that preserve and protect clean water flowing through local communities and the iconic National Parks of the Delaware River Watershed,” noted Amanda John, Pennsylvania and Delaware Program Manager with National Parks Conservation Association.
This program is a critical piece in protecting one of our nation’s most important river systems, the Delaware River Basin, which provides clean drinking water to over 15 million people. The river and its tributaries flow through nearly a dozen National Parks and historic sites, providing world-class recreational opportunities from wild trout fishing in the Upper Delaware to watching the remarkable bird migrations across Delaware Bay. It also has immense economic, historic, and ecological value – including being home to one of our country's most visited National Park units, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and one of most important shorebird migration sites worldwide.
While there are many nonprofit organizations working throughout the four states of the watershed to conserve, protect, and restore its critical resources, declining budgets and an increasing need on the horizon highlight the need for an efficient and coordinated approach to protecting the basin, which the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program will now provide. This program and funding source will bolster the substantial work already taking place in the watershed to combat critical issues like habitat degradation, invasive species, and climate change.
“It is vital that Congress funds the program so that funds can flow to important projects, which can leverage substantial investments and collaborative efforts already made in our region,” said Kelly Mooij, Chair of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed and V.P of Government Relations at New Jersey Audubon.
In the new year, the Coalition will work to ensure the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program is funded and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can swiftly begin implementation. The Coalition will also work to ensure the voice of the nonprofit community is included in the development of a basin-wide strategy as part of the program.
The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed unites organizations working throughout the region to enhance their capacity to effectively advocate for protecting and restoring the Delaware River Basin. It works to achieve this mission by coordinating communications, messages, and actions fostering accountability for success at the federal, state, and local levels. The Coalition is coordinated by New Jersey Audubon in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation.