U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today announced they introduced legislation that would improve and preserve the overall wellness of the Delaware River watershed. The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act of 2014, cosponsored by Sens. Tom Carper, Chris Coons (both D-Del.), Cory Booker and Robert Menendez (both D-N.J.), and Robert Casey (D-Penn.), strengthens the environmental health of the watershed while also spurring the Delaware River watershed region’s economy.
“The Delaware River is an important part of the heritage and economy of Upstate, as well as a source of clean drinking water for millions,” said Schumer. “Creating a partnership to coordinate conservation efforts will allow New York and other states to build on their successes and enhance water quality and the environment throughout the Delaware River watershed.”
“Investing in our water ways is critical for our environment and our communities,” said Gillibrand. “The Delaware River Basin is a natural treasure – it helps make the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley ideal communities to work, vacation, and raise a family. It fuels our economy, inspires our artists and provides New Yorkers with quality drinking water. I am pleased with this funding and will always work to preserve the beauty and tradition the Delaware River Basin provides.”
The Delaware River is not just a key resource for important habitat and recreational activity, but — from tourism to industry to agriculture — it is also a vital generator of economic activity for the region. The Delaware River is directly responsible for an estimated $4.3 billion in annual wages, with $149 billion in annual wages contained within the watershed. According to a 2011 comprehensive study of the region, more than 200,000 jobs are estimated to be directly tied to the Delaware River, with nearly 3 million jobs contained within the watershed. The Delaware River also houses the nation’s largest fresh water port, the Delaware River Port Complex. The complex is estimated to generate more than $19 billion in economic activity annually. About one-fifth of the upper watershed lies within New York State. The headwaters originate in the Catskill Mountains and eventually flow into Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite the impact on so many people, the Delaware River lacks a federal program dedicated to its conservation, unlike other nationally significant watersheds, like the Chesapeake Bay and the Long Island Sound.
The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act of 2014 would establish the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The program would implement a coordinated approach, requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director to adopt a basin-wide plan that sustains and enhances the Delaware River basin restoration and protection efforts. The program would support projects from federal, state, and local governments and stakeholders, ensuring that existing successful restoration plans are leveraged. In addition to the creation of the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, the bill would establish $5 million in annual competitive grant funding that assists voluntary, non-regulatory, on-the-ground restoration projects across the four-state region, with a maximum federal share of 50 percent.
The Delaware River watershed stretches more than 300 miles from the Catskill Mountains in New York to the mouth of the Delaware Bay in Delaware. The land area of the watershed is 13,600 square miles, including nearly 1,000 miles in Delaware, and is home to more than eight million people. More than 16 million people depend on the Delaware River as a source of drinking water, including the populations of the first and fifth most populous cities in the U.S., New York and Philadelphia. The Delaware River watershed comprises 50 percent of the land area and 72 percent of the population of Delaware (and 26 percent of the land area and 20 percent of the population in New Jersey, and 7 percent of the land area and 30 percent of the population in Pennsylvania), and includes the tributaries of the Brandywine and Christina rivers, the C&D Canal, and the Delaware Bay.