Benefits to Delaware River Watershed Communities from the Land & Water Conservation Fund
By: Courtney Krier, Communications Intern at CDRW
With the spring weather breaking into warm summer days, now is the perfect time to enjoy the green, open spaces of the watershed. The Delaware River Watershed has become a haven for outdoor recreation, from hiking and biking to watercraft activities like kayaking and tubing. Outdoor recreation in the watershed not only brings families together for memorable bonding experiences, but it succeeds in bringing together like-minded outdoor enthusiasts. Preservation of green, open spaces is an asset to communities while also making economic sense, since outdoor recreation brings in $887 billion annually on a national level. Safeguarding recreation by conserving outdoor spaces in the watershed is critical, which is why the Congress must fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
Created in 1964, LWCF was established to “safeguard natural areas, water resources, and cultural heritage; and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans.” The program involves land acquisition to safeguard wilderness from development and provides local grants for the restoration and protection of parks, monuments, and trails. LWCF has provided funding for everything from iconic national parks like Redwood National Park to the local Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, one of the country’s most visited national parks. Since its inception, LWCF has provided over 40,000 grants with 75% of those grants being for “close-to-home” recreation opportunities that benefit communities across the country.
There’s no shortage of locations within the Delaware River Watershed that have benefited from LWCF. In fact, all four watershed states have received LWCF funds in the past, including: Appalachian National Scenic Trail (NY & PA), Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River (NY & PA), Brandywine Battlefield (PA), Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (PA & NJ), Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge (PA), John Heinz Tinicum National Wildlife Reserve (PA), Pinelands National Reserve (NJ), Cape May National Wildlife Refuge (NJ), Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (DE), and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (DE).
In a big win for the watershed and open space across the country, Congress voted to permanently authorize LWCF (S. 47) earlier this year, therefore ensuring the program will persist into the years ahead. However, despite permanent reauthorization, LWCF funding is still not guaranteed. The LWCF Act authorizes an annual level of $900 million for the program, but Congress usually appropriates only a portion of this amount. LWCF’s funding often ends up on the chopping block, with the President’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget cutting $23.45 million from the $435 million allotted the previous year. For fiscal year 2020, the House is proposing $534 million for the LWCF, but that increase still falls short of the $900 million needed for the conservation goals of the program to be fully realized.
Not enough funding for LWCF isn’t the only problem. In the last fifty-five years, about $22 billion has been siphoned off from LWCF; funds that could have otherwise gone to conserve and restore our outdoors. This lack of stability in funding creates a threat for open space and recreation within the Delaware River Watershed. Without full, dedicated funding Congress’ work on the LWCF is not complete. There is no sense in reauthorization without the promise to use the funding for its intended purpose. Currently, bill S.1081 is being proposed in the U.S. Senate, which would provide LWCF with permanent funding of $900 million annually.
Take action now to ask your Senators to fully fund the LWCF and to ensure that the money goes towards it’s intended purpose of conserving the outdoors in the Delaware River Watershed and beyond.