Amidst concerning news about water quality throughout New York and across the United States, the federal government has passed legislation that will have significant ramifications for one of New York’s most important natural resources: the Delaware River Watershed. On December 16, 2016, President Obama signed legislation from Congress that will provide an important source of funding for restoration efforts across the watershed, hopefully for years to come. The legislation, known as the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA), was passed after years of advocacy from numerous environmental groups and partner organizations.
The Delaware River Basin provides drinking water to over 15 million people, including half of New York City’s population, but the watershed’s water quality continues to face threats from agriculture, industrialization and urbanization. Despite its economic, ecological, and historic importance, the watershed has long lacked the federal support provided to other major watersheds across the country. The DRBCA is a vital step in reversing these trends and preserving this important resource. The DRBCA establishes a non-regulatory Delaware River Basin Restoration Program as part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service which will provide structure and support the the ongoing restoration and conservation work being done across the watershed.
The DRBCA was passed as part of a package of legislation known as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, passed by Congress on December 10th and signed by the President six days later. The legislation authorizes $5 million in annual funding for competitive grants and technical assistance to state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and universities that are working to protect the Watershed through water quality improvement programs, habitat restoration, flood mitigation, and other restoration and protection efforts. This funding will be managed through the Basin Restoration Program at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and will ensure the many benefits of a healthy watershed for the long term.
The value of the Delaware River Watershed to New York and the five states that contain part of it cannot be overstated: the watershed provides drinking water to 16 million people in region, including two out of the five largest metropolitan centers in the country: New York City and Philadelphia. The Watershed also supports over $25 billion in annual economic activity and an estimated $21 billion in ecosystem services to the region including water filtration, forests and wetlands, and carbon sequestration. Finally, the watershed is home to more than 200 species of fish, oysters and crab that support numerous recreational fisheries and a healthy, diverse marine ecosystem.
In 2017, NYLCV and the NYLCV Education Fund will work closely with the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed and the Delaware River Watershed Initiative to build support for additional restoration efforts at the local, state and federal level and protect the newly created Delaware River Basin Restoration Program. We will work with our partners to increase opportunities for digital engagement and advocacy on watershed issues with the long term goal of protecting the waters of the Delaware River for millions of New Yorkers. The DRBCA is an important legislative accomplishment, and we must remain vigilant to protect this program while continuing to look for every opportunity to expand restoration efforts across the state.