Conservation in the Delaware at Stake in Trump Administration Budget Proposal

President Trump released a more detailed budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 recommending severe cuts to the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other areas. If enacted, these reductions would result in the elimination of funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Chesapeake Bay Program, and other geographic watershed programs, as well as the National Estuary Program and critical water quality research and support grants that go directly to the states. This would halt critical work around the country that has shown real success in protecting, preserving, and restoring our nation’s waters.

Photograph by  Nicholas A. Tonelli .

Photograph by Nicholas A. Tonelli.

"Investing in the restoration of our nation’s watersheds yields tremendous returns, from improved drinking water quality and enhanced habitat for fish and wildlife. In addition to natural benefits, investment in our watersheds provides a many fold return in direct economic benefits that result from tourism, outdoor recreation, and related activities. It is short-sighted to decimate funding for these crucial programs, and a proposal we plan to fight as hard as we can,” said Drew Tompkins, public policy coordinator of New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, which was established at the very end of last year within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has yet to receive funding and could lose out if this limited budget were approved by Congress. The program sets out to identify, prioritize, and implement restoration and protection projects throughout the watershed while supporting locally-led projects through technical assistance and a new grant program.

This non-regulatory, bottom-up approach is intended to support critical conservation work across the watershed by leveraging private investment as part of the 50 percent non-federal match requirement for the grant program.

“Conservation of the natural resources in major watershed across the country has garnered strong bi-partisan support in Washington, DC for years, and this commitment was recently extended to the Delaware when Congress passed the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act in December 2016.” said Madeline Emde, Conservation Associate for the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed at New Jersey Audubon.

While funds have not yet been appropriated for this new program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already started to develop of a basin-wide strategy for this important work. The Service began mapping out a framework for the program in January and coordinated closely with the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed and other stakeholders in the basin to accurately reflect the needs and potential solutions to challenges in the watershed.

This investment is laudable, but the Service will need much more to implement the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program strategy. The 14.5 percent cut to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget in the Administration’s FY 2018 proposal is consequently disconcerting.  

“We are troubled to see the lack of support for the Department of Interior and regional watershed programs similar to the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program in the proposed budget,” said Madeline Urbish, Director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed at New Jersey Audubon, “We are hopeful, however, given the overwhelming public and bi-partisan Congressional support for this issue and look forward to working with our members of Congress to ensure the program is funded through the appropriations process.”

It is imperative that Congress follow through on its intent when it authorized the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program last year and provide robust funding sufficient to implement the framework mapped out by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed unites over 110 organizations working throughout the region to share information, leverage resources, and enhance their capacity to effectively advocate for protecting and restoring the Delaware River Basin. It works to achieve this mission by coordinating communications, messages, and actions fostering accountability for success at the federal, state, and local levels. The Coalition is coordinated by New Jersey Audubon in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation.