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Championing Federal Restoration Investments into the Delaware River Watershed Region
Formed over a decade ago, the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW), hosted by National Wildlife Federation, assembled to advocate for federal restoration investments throughout the five-state basin region encompassing portions of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.
Alongside its 180+ non-profit partners ― representing watershed associations, land conservancies, outdoor recreation and sporting interests, national organizations, and other stakeholder groups ― the Coalition works collaboratively with bipartisan lawmakers, state and federal agencies, as well as environmental commissions to achieve common goals of watershed protection.
Protecting the Delaware River Watershed
Spanning 13,539 square miles, the Delaware River watershed is a prized natural resource that provides 14.2 million people with their clean drinking water, including the metropolitan cities of Wilmington, Trenton, Philadelphia, and New York City. As the lifeblood of this region, the basin provides $25 billion in economic revenue and another $21 billion in ecosystem services, including air and water filtration, nutrient recycling, flood and stormwater control, soil conservation, and globally significant habitat for migratory birds and resident and migratory fish species. The watershed also hosts more than 400 miles of National Wild and Scenic Rivers, six National Wildlife Refuges, and the Delaware Bay, one of the largest systems in the National Estuary Program. Given the basin’s nationally significant ecological and recreational assets, it’s vital that stakeholders work together to protect these waters for generations to come.
Federal Restoration Initiatives
In 2016, Congress affirmed the importance of the watershed when it passed the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA) into law through the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA). The legislation directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to create and facilitate the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP), a non-regulatory effort that leverages private investment, regional partnerships, and local knowledge to protect and restore the resources of the watershed. In partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the Service has since successfully executed six annual rounds of funding through the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund (DWCF), a grant program which Congress required to be the core of the program. Projects include those that improve public access and recreational opportunities, support restoring and protecting vulnerable fish and wildlife habitat, and protect riparian, stream, and wetland habitat. To date, DWCF has awarded 195 projects totaling over $55.1 million in restoration investments, and nearly $79.2 million in non-federal match.
Since passage of the Act, CDRW has served as the primary thought leader in advocating for increased budgetary investments and reauthorizing legislation to allow for continued funding to be funneled into the basin. Each year, the Coalition works alongside the House Delaware River Watershed Caucus and Senate champions to demonstrate the bipartisan support of appropriation funding to DRBRP through Dear Colleagues and organizational sign-on letters.
Additionally, the Coalition brings watershed advocates to Washington, D.C., as part of its annual Hill Day to meet with Members of Congress and educate their offices on key policy and funding priorities that support conservation and restoration in basin region. A recurring request is increased funding to support the DRBRP. Recently, the House Interior Bill included a $2.0 million dollar increase at $13.5 million for Fiscal Year 24 while the Senate included level funding from FY23 at $11.5 million. The Coalition circulated a letter to Congressional committees supporting the House interior appropriated amount with over 94 organizations backing this funding request.
In March 2023, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA1) introduced legislation into the Senate (S. 654) and House (H.R. 1395) that would reauthorize the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act. The current law expires in September of this year, and the newly introduced reauthorization measure would extend program funding to 2030. Reauthorization of this critical and well-established federal program would continue to affirm the nationally and historically significant Delaware River Watershed as a resource worth protecting.
Improving Restoration Program Accessibility
While historically a minimum of a one-to-one non-federal match is required for the grant program, the program is structured to increase the competitiveness of grants that exceed that threshold to leverage the maximum amount of non-federal dollars. To make the program accessible to a wider array of prospective grantees, reauthorization would allow a 90% federal investment with 10% match for small, rural, or disadvantaged communities and the Secretary may waive all match requirements at their own discretion. The Coalition believes this will help reduce funding disparities in a locally driven and cost-effective way, and tap into the tremendous unmet demand to do work throughout the watershed.
CDRW staff continue to work with lawmaker offices on the best avenue forward. WRDA is slated for review in 2024 and may be the channel for passage before Senator Carper retires from serving in Congress. To assist citizens and organizations with their advocacy to get DRBCA reauthorization across the finish line, the Coalition has developed a social media toolkit.
To showcase the investments made in elected official’s district, the Coalition works with grantees on press events to educate them further about the impacts of DRBRP into the region. In August 2023, the Coalition supported an event organized by Friends of the Upper Delaware with Congressman Marc Molinaro (R-NY19) as well as took Congressman Tom Kean Jr. (R-NJ7) on the water with the Lake Hopatcong Foundation and Musconetcong Watershed Association. In 2022, the Coalition partnered with New Jersey Audubon to host Congressman Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ2) to demonstrate how endangered bog turtles and their habitats benefit from federal restoration dollars. The Coalition has long been an effective and trusted resource in the watershed and now looks forward to continue working with stakeholders and lawmakers for increased investments made in the region.