Delaware River Basin Conservation Act Advances in Congress

  Downgrade, by  Nicholas A. Tonelli .

Downgrade, by Nicholas A. Tonelli.

The Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works approved the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA) yesterday by a voice vote. The DRBCA will now move to the full Senate for consideration and passage.

“This is a major step towards passing the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act,” stated Madeline (Maddy) Urbish, Director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “We are very encouraged by the Committee’s approval of the bill and we look forward to its passage in the Senate.”

The Delaware River Basin Conservation would establish a non-regulatory Delaware River Basin Restoration Program in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with a $5 million grant and technical assistance program. The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program would establish a coordinated approach for identifying, prioritizing, and implementing restoration and protection activities throughout the River Basin.

The grant program would require a minimum 50-percent non-federal match such as state or private dollars so that any federal investment is at least doubled. Notably, the bill would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consult with non-governmental organizations and partnerships working in the region to ensure program implementation incorporates a basin-wide strategy that is complementary to existing funding programs and initiatives throughout the Watershed.

“The Delaware River Basin is an ecological and economic powerhouse for Delaware and our neighboring states." said Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), primary sponsor of the bill, in a press release regarding the DRBCA's approval yesterday that can be read here. "The basin is a vital watershed that contributes $25 billion to our region's economy and fuels our local communities by supporting jobs in the maritime, agriculture, tourism, hunting, fishing and wildlife industries. This bill would improve coordination among federal, state and local partners who work to protect and preserve the basin, and ensure that partners can work together to protect the health of this vital resource for generations to come.”

The Basin also provides drinking water to over 15 million people (5% of the U.S. population) and contributes $21 billion worth of ecosystem goods and services each year. The River and its tributaries flow through nearly a dozen National Parks and historic sites and provide world-class recreational opportunities.

“Due to the tremendous value of the Basin’s resources to the densely populated Mid-Atlantic region and beyond, the Coalition has identified passage of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act as one of its key priorities,” notes Grant La Rouche, Mid-Atlantic Regional Representative for the National Wildlife Federation and a member of the Coalition’s Steering Committee. Earlier this month, the Coalition and many of its members and partners sent a letter requesting the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee schedule the DRBCA for consideration.

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. Coalition members include over 80 watershed associations, land conservancies, outdoor recreation and sporting interests, national organizations, and other stakeholder groups from throughout the four states of the Watershed.

The DRBCA was reintroduced in both the U.S. House and Senate last April and was the subject of a hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans in July 2015. Though this year’s election has cut the legislative calendar short, there is still time for Congress to act, and the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee’s approval of the bill is a major step towards passage.

You can learn more about the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act and how to get involved at www.delriverwatershed.org/drbca