Today, the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act was passed by the U.S. Senate as part of a larger package of legislation contained in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The bill was passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support by a vote of 95 to three.
“Thanks to the incredible leadership of our Senate delegation, particularly the bill’s primary sponsor Senator Carper, the Delaware River Watershed is one step closer to having the federal recognition and funding it so deserves,” said Madeline Urbish, Director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed.
The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act 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 program creates a coordinated approach for identifying, prioritizing, and implementing restoration and protection activities throughout the river basin.
The grant portion of the program requires a minimum 50-percent non-federal match, which will ensure that any federal investment is at least doubled. Notably, the bill requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to coordinate with federal agencies and 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, which passed the Senate today. "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 legislation will 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.
"The Upper Delaware River and the entire watershed needs this legislation. We've fallen behind other areas of the country in adopting a national plan for this priceless river. The DRBCA will help focus management and restoration efforts in a comprehensive and cost effective manner and will provide much needed resources to improve economic and environmental conditions throughout the watershed", said Jeff Skelding, Executive Director of Friends of the Upper Delaware River.
“The Delaware Watershed is an incredible resource within the region supporting our economy, providing valuable ecosystem services and incredible and diverse habitat. This voluntary and non-regulatory program will provide critical leveraging funds for state, local and nonprofit dollars as well as encouraging coordination and eliminating redundancies among federal agencies” said Kelly Mooij, Co-Chair of the Coalition for the Delaware River Coalition and Vice President for Government Relations for NJ Audubon. “We look forward to swift action by the House to pass WRDA and establish this vital new 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. Coalition members include over 90 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. The bill was approved unanimously by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works earlier this year in May. The Water Resources Development Act will next be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Water Resources Development Act authorizes water-related projects carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including dam repair and removal, beach restoration, and navigation improvements. For more information on the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, see the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works’ fact sheet.
You can learn more about the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act and how to get involved at www.delriverwatershed.org/drbca.