TU chapters and partners sit down with Congressman Costello

Originally published on Trout Unlimited's website here.

By Katy Dunlap

Conserving and enhancing fish and wildlife habitat in the Delaware River watershed seems like a no-brainer to most people, especially anglers.

  Congressman Ryan Costello (top row, center) discusses conservation issues with participants in a recent roundtable event in Malvern, Pa.

Congressman Ryan Costello (top row, center) discusses conservation issues with participants in a recent roundtable event in Malvern, Pa.

If you have ever fought with a wild brown trout in the West Branch of the Upper Delaware, or chased after small browns in the tribs of the Lehigh, or even cast a line in Valley Creek — a Class A stream wild trout stream located just a short 40-minute drive from Philadelphia — then you know about the incredible fishery resources in the Delaware River watershed.

On top of that, the Delaware River watershed serves as the drinking water source for more than 15 million people, provides approximately $21 billion annually in ecosystem services and contributes $25 billion in annual economic activity.

For the past few years, TU has been working with the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed to put the Delaware River basin on the national radar, and ensure that much-needed federal dollars are directed into fish and wildlife habitat restoration and enhancement projects in the basin. Together, we have been advocating for the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA), a bill that would create a non-regulatory, voluntary program within the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to help identify, prioritize and implement projects that enhance fish and wildlife habitat protection and restoration in the basin. Importantly, this bill authorizes $5 million in federal funding for a competitive grant program that could leverage existing restoration and enhancement efforts in the watershed — most of which are being funded currently by private foundation investments and state and local dollars.

[On Wednesday night], TU hosted an intimate conservation roundtable discussion focused on the DRBCA in Malvern, Pa., with Congressman Ryan Costello (PA-06) and about 20 people representing 15 local conservation organizations from his district. While each organization described the challenges they are addressing, several common themes surfaced including: addressing stormwater impacts, implementing agricultural best management practices, enhancing farmland and forest protection, improving instream habitat and dam removal, planting and protecting riparian buffers, providing recreational opportunities, and educating decision-makers, landowners and local officials on the importance of watershed protection actions. In some cases, in order to achieve these goals, increased staff capacity and technical assistance is needed. It was abundantly clear that additional federal dollars would significantly enhance and expand the work that is being done in Pennsylvania’s 6th district.

Congressman Costello, a co-sponsor of the DRBCA and a supporter of other federal conservation initiatives, encouraged organizations to continue their good work to protect water quality. “When you look at what happened in Flint, and you read about some of the drinking water concerns around this country, I think it is extremely important that all of us continue to raise awareness about why safe, clean water for drinking water is a public health issue and an environmental issue,” said Congressman Costello. “It is the sort of thing that is invisible to a lot of people until something tragic happens and it is also why this bill is extremely important.” Now, with concrete examples of projects in his district that would benefit from passage of the DRBCA, Congressman Costello can help bring more attention to and support for the DRBCA.

As angler conservationists, we live and breathe the motto: if you take care of the fish, then the fishing will take care of itself. Deep down we know that the work we do to improve trout habitat, repair streams and protect forested headwater not only helps to take care of fish habitat, it also helps to protect water quality for drinking water supplies. Protecting fish and wildlife habitat in the Delaware River watershed, through passage of the DRBCA, will help to ensure clean, safe drinking water for the millions of people who rely upon the watershed.

Katy Dunlap is the director of TU's Eastern Water Project program.