A Policy Agenda to Protect the Birds of the Delaware River Watershed
Audubon focuses on funding and bipartisan engagement for clean, reliable water for birds and people.
This article was originally published in the Audubon Mid-Atlantic
May 19, 2021
From warblers to shorebirds, the Delaware River Watershed provides habitat for birds that spans from the upland forests of the Kittatinny Ridge and Appalachian Highlands to the riparian habitats of the Delaware River and tributaries and down to the coastal plains and marshes of Delaware Bay. Audubon’s Delaware River Watershed Program works to improve clean water and habitat for the birds and people who rely on the health of this diverse region through watershed-wide conservation. This begins with adequately funding the critical programs and agencies tasked with protecting the watershed.
Across the four states of the watershed – Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania – Audubon has five federal and state legislative priorities in 2021 to expand funding and improve water policy across the landscape:
Fund the Delaware River Basin Commission & State Resource Agencies
The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is a federal-interstate compact entity and the primary agency charged with managing the watershed’s resources, including water quality and quantity. However, the DRBC has had previously agreed upon federal and state funding largely withheld since 1996. Audubon supports a restart of federal funding and increased state funding according to funding targets previously agreed to by the compact parties. These so-called fair-share funding targets are:
Federal Government: $715,000 (20%)
Pennsylvania: $893,000 (25%)
New York: $626,000 (17.5%)
New Jersey: $893,000 (25%)
Delaware: $447,000 (12.5%)
Audubon also calls for continued funding for state agencies charged with protecting water quality and habitat. In New York, we call for the re-appropriation of $10 billion in committed funding to the New York Department of Conservation (DEC). In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and special funds that provide restoration capital have been significantly diminished through transfers and underfunding. We must ensure these agencies have the resources they need to do their jobs, including advocating for adequate funding through the budget process.
Protect Water Quality in the Rivers, Lakes, and Streams
Managing water quality and water resources is a shared job between federal and state government. With the Trump administration’s rollbacks to the reach of the federal Clean Water Act in effect throughout the watershed, and an ever-growing number of threats to water quality from nonpoint sources like stormwater and outdated infrastructure, many rivers, lakes, and streams are facing pollution challenges. It is imperative that states take action to develop and implement protections to fully meet the intent of the Clean Water Act and state laws. Audubon calls for state action in the watershed, including:
New York: Expanding the Department of Environmental Conservation’s authority over wetlands and streams, and encouraging DEC to update wetlands maps and stream classifications.
Delaware: Passing the Clean Water for Delaware Act to establish a framework for water supply and waterways projects as well as create a trust fund to execute projects.
Pennsylvania: Setting uniform standards for application to turf areas, such as lawns, golf courses and athletic fields, to reduce nutrient pollution in rivers and streams – one of the leading causes of downstream watershed degradation.
At the regional level, we anticipate regulations from the DRBC in late 2021 governing certain industrial wastewater discharges and out-of-basin water transfers. Regulations must include strong language that protects high water quality and adequate streamflows in the upper watershed.
Grow the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program’s Wingspan
The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) is a collaborative conservation program that champions investments in critical on-the-ground projects in the watershed aimed at restoring important habitat for birds and other wildlife, and ensuring clean drinking water for more than 13.3 million people.
Audubon calls for continued growth of the DRBRP with $15 million in funding in the 2022 fiscal year. This increase will provide the resources for strategic efforts to address a variety of issues plaguing water quality and diverse habitat across the watershed, from the headwaters to the Delaware Bay. By comparison, the Great Lakes Regional Initiative received an FY21 appropriation of $330 million and the Chesapeake Bay Program’s appropriation was $87.5 million for FY21.
The Delaware River Watershed has running room on its rise to one of America’s treasured investments. Audubon is hopeful that the newly formed Delaware River Basin Caucus will help spur new Congressional attention and funding for this critical watershed.
Support the Communities of the Delaware River Watershed
Pennsylvania has an opportunity to strengthen its commitment to serving all communities by passing legislation that codifies and enhances the Office of Environmental Justice within the DEP. Audubon will support this measure and others like it throughout watershed states.
In Philadelphia, in the heart of our watershed, the City’s Water and Parks departments must balance post-COVID budgets without disproportionality impacting communities through rate increases and reduced investments in the city’s critical natural lands and green stormwater infrastructure. We support measures that address the disproportionate impacts felt by under-resourced communities and champion restorative environmental justice.
The 2021 state legislative sessions have been closely watched following an unprecedented election season and the continued strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are committed to bipartisan engagement on these key issues in order to advance sound water policy for birds and people.