Defending the Delaware River: One Year After the DRBCA
By Madeline Urbish
This past Saturday we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act’s (DRBCA) enactment. On December 16, 2016, President Barack Obama signed the DRBCA into law establishing, for the first time, a federal program dedicated to protecting and restoring the Delaware River Basin.
After over six years of tireless work from our advocates in the environmental community and champions in Congress, the Delaware River Basin was given the recognition it was denied for so long.
The river basin covers the four-state, 13,500 square-mile region that drains into the Delaware River. Across Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, the Delaware River Basin supplies clean, reliable drinking water to over 15 million people, supports $25 billion in annual economic activity, and provides over $21 billion in ecological services each year.
At a time when Congress seems to be doing less and less – fewer than 3% of bills were passed and signed into the law since 2010 – moving the DRBCA across the finish line was an unprecedented accomplishment.
The DRBCA created the non-regulatory Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) and directs the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bring partners from the nonprofit community, state and local governments, universities, and other sectors to comprehensively address some of the region’s greatest challenges. The program identifies and prioritizes projects to restore natural resources, monitor water quality, and ensure public access along the river, among others. Importantly, the DRBRP also includes a grant component to provide money to local communities for on-the-ground projects such as tree planting, water quality monitoring, and wetlands restoration. This work can help improve our streams, protect our community from flooding, and restore previously decimated fish populations.
In a normal time, funding this program would be a no-brainer. It is clear that we are not operating under normal circumstances. In September, the House of Representatives approved $5 million for the DRBRP. Since then, Congress has passed two continuing resolutions to keep the government open, but they have not included this funding. Now, a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives have sent a letter to leadership calling on them to include DRBRP funding in whatever final spending package is approved before the next budget deadline (currently December 22nd).
We must continue advocating for our region and our river. Now is the time for the public to contribute their voice to protecting the Delaware by contacting members of Congress and urging them to support the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program this December. The Delaware River provides so much for so many, and it’s our responsibility to safeguard its future.
Update: Congress is planning to pass a temporary budget to keep the government running until January 19, 2018. That means that the DRBRP will likely not be voted on until January 19th, as well. This extension means we have more time to reach out to members of Congress in order to stress the importance of the Delaware River on our health, economy, and environment.