Today, funding for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program advanced amidst cuts to other critical environmental programs. The U.S. House of Representatives approved $1.2 trillion as a package of twelve bills to appropriate funds for many government programs. The package, HR 3354, specified funding for Departments of Interior, EPA, NOAA and other related and unrelated agencies. Cuts to critical programs as well as riders which will weaken environmental protections were included. If approved, this spending package could harm public health, natural resources and habitat by cutting funding for many critical programs. Some of those proposed cuts include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a cut of more than $500 million and cuts to climate change research among many others.
A bright spot in a sea of proposed cuts to critical environmental programs was support for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program which cleared the next major benchmark in the lengthy and complicated federal budgeting process. This marks the first time funding for a program dedicated to the entire Delaware River Watershed has been approved in either chamber of Congress.
“While we are gravely concerned about proposed environmental program cuts, support for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program is a big step for the watershed,” remarked Kelly Mooij, VP of Government Relations at New Jersey Audubon and Steering Committee Co-Chair of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “Since the founding of the Coalition in 2012, our goal has been to establish and secure funding for a federal program aimed at conserving the region’s natural resources. We will continue to support funding for this program as well as many of the critical agencies that protect and steward our Delaware River.”
The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program was created following passage of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act in December 2016. The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, which unites organizations working throughout the river basin to share information and advocate for a healthy watershed, led a successful collective effort in the region to promote passage of the Conservation Act last year.
“This type of program is a good investment for the entire river basin,” added Jeff Skelding, Executive Director of Friends of the Upper Delaware River, which serves as the Coalition’s state outreach lead in New York. “Funding for the program will leverage private dollars that are supporting locally-led projects throughout the watershed including the Upper Delaware Region.”
The non-regulatory program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will identify, prioritize, and implement conservation projects throughout the watershed while supporting these efforts through technical assistance and grants. The House Appropriations bill provides $5 million for fiscal year 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017, though negotiations will likely continue passed the start of the new fiscal year. Congress has passed a continuing resolution to keep funding at current levels through Dec. 8.
Since the program’s establishment late last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been hard at work developing a framework for the restoration program in partnership with stakeholders from the region. The Service recently launched a new webpage for the program, which can be viewed here: https://www.fws.gov/northeast/delawareriver/.
“It has been encouraging to see the Fish and Wildlife Service collaborating closely with organizations and agencies, including the Coalition, already working in the river basin to build on those efforts,” said Mark Zakutansky, Director of Conservation Policy Engagement with the Appalachian Mountain Club. “Once funded, this program can truly get off the ground and begin supporting critical conservation work throughout the watershed.”
The Coalition will continue to mobilize its members and partners throughout the region to lead efforts to advance funding for the restoration program in Congress. It is now up to the Senate to approve funding for the program.