Building off the success of the federal spending bill recently signed into law by President Biden — that included a significant increase of $11.5 million in funding for the region — Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) took another major step forward in protecting the drinking water, state wildlife, and restoration sites across the watershed by reintroducing the bipartisan Delaware River Basin Conservation Reauthorization Act (DRBCA).
This new version of the bill would modify key program elements to expand equity in the Delaware River Basin by helping underserved rural and urban communities better access funding for important water quality and conservation measures.
The legislation will complement other federal investments to fight against the environmental burdens that communities throughout the Delaware River Watershed face.
The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW) applauds this important step in improving water quality, protecting sensitive ecosystems, reducing flooding, and mitigating the effects of climate change in the Delaware River Basin — which stretches from upstate New York down to the Delaware Bay — while expanding equitable funding access to underserved rural and urban communities.
“The Coalition commends Senator Carper, Representative Blunt Rochester, and Representative Fitzpatrick for reintroducing the Delaware River Basin Conservation Reauthorization Act to continue supporting the Basin through critical funding, bolstering our ability to protect and preserve this beloved natural resource for future generations. Senator Carper has been instrumental in raising national awareness of the Delaware River Watershed, and continues to be one of the most influential clean water champions. We’re fortunate to have him work with Rep. Blunt Rochester and Rep. Fitzpatrick, both longtime advocates for our region’s environmental needs, on the DRBCA reauthorization,” said Kelly Knutson, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed director. “And while we applaud this important step, we also acknowledge there is much more work to be done, and believe Congress must not only pass this reauthorization legislation but also follow up reauthorization by allocating additional funding that continues supporting the DRBCA for years to come.”
Last session, Carper, who introduced the original DRBCA legislation that passed in 2016, introduced a reauthorization bill into the Senate alongside Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA) who put forth the companion bill in the House in conjunction with Rep. Fitzpatrick and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE).
While the reauthorization did not ultimately pass Congress in time before the session ended, advocates were encouraged by the progress the legislation made and the strong bipartisan support it enjoyed — which has continued into the current session.
The DRBCA establishes the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, which, through the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund (DWCF), provides funding for critical projects that improve and maintain water quality, conserve ecologically sensitive habitats, and improve outdoor recreational opportunities within the Delaware River watershed.
The law is set to expire in September of this year, and the newly introduced reauthorization measure would extend program funding to 2030.
Legislation would also advance the fight against environmental injustice by tackling the disproportionate barriers that historically excluded communities face in addressing environmental threats, particularly when accessing funding.
The bill aims to alter the local matching requirements for small, rural, or disadvantaged communities, allowing projects to move forward with 90% federal investment and only a 10% local match – an improvement over the 50% split currently in place.
This would allow projects to move forward with funding that was previously out of reach for local communities that need help the most but lack the financial resources to provide matching dollars.
The recently introduced reauthorization measure would ensure that these funds are spent equitably and would focus federal resources on the communities most in need across the four-state region.
Supporting and maintaining the DRBCA is essential to improving water quality, mitigating erosion and flood damage, protecting local ecological diversity, expanding public access and recreation, and generating new economic opportunities throughout the mid-Atlantic.
Since 2018, the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund has awarded $40.4 million to 159 projects that provide vital support to fish and wildlife, help support economic vitality, and contribute to quality of life through public access and outdoor recreation opportunities.
CDRW has also joined with other environmental advocates to ask Congress to allocate appropriate levels of funding to ensure the DRBCA has sufficient resources to tackle the long list of important projects awaiting funding.
Senators Cory Booker(D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Chris Coons (D-DE), joined Carper to introduce the legislation in the Senate. Congressman Dwight Evans(D-PA), Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Congressman Andy Kim (D-NJ), Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Congressman Marcus Malinaro (R-NY), Congresswoman Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Congresswoman Susan Wild (D-PA), Congressman Brian Boyle (D-PA) and Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) are joining Brian Fitzpatrick to introduce the legislation in the House.
About the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed
The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed was formed in 2012 to protect and restore the land and waters in the Delaware River Basin.
We amplify the collective power of over 180 member organizations and other stakeholders as we advocate for a healthy and protected watershed with an inclusive, unified voice.
The Coalition convenes member and non-member organizations, builds capacity, coordinates communications, and advances policy at the federal and state levels.
For more information, please visit www.delriverwatershed.org.