The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed is pleased to see the Obama administration's continued commitment to protecting and restoring our natural resources through a fully funded Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The President's recently announced budget includes $900 million for LWCF, which helps protect working farms and forests, preserve our public lands, and provide access to outdoor recreation areas throughout the country. The LWCF budget is supported by revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling royalties that is deposited into the fund each year, rather than tax-payer dollars.
According to the Department of Interior, the President's commitment to fully funding LWCF in FY2017 is part of a "mulit-year strategy leading to full permanent funding for the Fund in 2018," when the current authorization expires. Full permanent funding for LWCF would have a major impact throughout the country, including the Delaware River Watershed, not only in protecting our critical resources, but also in boosting our local economies. A report by the Natural Lands Trust found that LWCF produces $4 worth of local economic activity for every dollar invested.
The President's budget includes two projects in the Delaware River Watershed: the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Rockaway River Wildlife Management Area, as well as opportunities for funding in the region through competitive grant programs. One such program in the Watershed is made possible by the Highlands Conservation Act, which authorizes $100 million over 10 years for land conservation partnership projects and $10 million over 10 years in technical assistance to private landowners and local communities. The program, which expired in 2014, funds land acquisition by participating states, including New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The Highlands Conservation Act was introduced last February by Congressman Rodney Frelinghyusen (R-NJ) to reauthorize the successful program. The bill was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee earlier this week and has been referred back to the full House for consideration and vote, though one has not yet been scheduled. Sponsors of the Highlands Conservation Act extension include Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Ryan Costello (R-PA), Charles Dent (R-PA), Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), and Patrick Meehan (R-PA), among others outside the Watershed.
The Delaware River Watershed’s congressional delegation has demonstrated their support for the conservation of natural resources over the years in supporting measures such as the Highlands Conservation Act, LWCF, and other important measures. Although the President proposed fully funding the LWCF last year, Congress appropriated half of his requested amount at $450 million. We greatly appreciate the commitments our representatives in Congress have already made to protecting and restoring the Delaware River Watershed, and we urge them and other members to support full funding of the LWCF.
The Coalition hopes to work with our members and other organizations throughout the Watershed to share important information about LWCF programs and provide resources to help the region better take advantage of its opportunities. As the source of drinking water for nearly 16 million people, the source of $21 billion in ecosystem services, and the driver of $25 billion in economic activity, the Delaware River Watershed is a vital resource that we must continue to protect and restore.
For more information on the Land and Water Conservation Fund, visit https://www.doi.gov/lwcf.