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Let's see funding for Delaware watershed protection

The watershed faces extraordinary challenges, and the only effective way to address them is through a multipartner, watershed-wide conservation program with sufficient funding.

The sun sets over the Delaware River in Riverton, N.J.
The sun sets over the Delaware River in Riverton, N.J.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Although we come from different backgrounds with different perspectives, one thing we can agree on is the need to protect our environment, both locally and globally.

In December, with bipartisan support and leadership, Congress approved the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act aimed at protecting the Delaware River Watershed. This commonsense program leverages private investment, regional partnerships, and local knowledge to protect and restore the resources of the watershed.

What's so special about the Delaware River Watershed?

It is the source of clean drinking water for more than 15 million people — including half the populations of Philadelphia and New York City.

It is a $25 billion economic powerhouse that supports at least 600,000 jobs with more than $10 billion in annual wages in agriculture, recreation, and ecotourism; hunting and fishing; and ports and commercial fishing.

It provides habitat for more than 200 resident and migrant fish species, hosts the largest population of American horseshoe crabs anywhere, and is a critical rest stop on global migration routes for shorebirds, some of them the most vulnerable species of birds in the world.

And for those of us who love to hunt, fish, bird, boat, camp, hike, or picnic in the watershed's astonishing parks, wilderness, and waterways, there's simply no other place like it on Earth.

There is a lot riding on this river and its watershed.

Despite all its economic, ecological, and recreational importance, the watershed has long lacked the federal support provided to other major — and more famous — river watersheds across the nation.

The Delaware River Watershed faces extraordinary challenges, including unplanned sprawl development, extensive loss of forests, effects of a changing climate, and deteriorating water quality. These are difficult issues, and the only effective way to address them is through a multipartner, watershed-wide conservation program with sufficient funding.

That's why it was such a momentous step when we established this conservation program, and we commend the recent steps taken by the House appropriators who proposed $5 million for it. This is an effective, fiscally wise use of taxpayer dollars. It is critical that Congress follow through in September and provide the money needed to get this important program started on the right foot.

The funding will go to identifying and launching restoration and protection activities throughout the river basin, which stretches from Upstate New York, covers the eastern part of Pennsylvania and the western side of New Jersey, and runs through Delaware to the Atlantic Ocean.

The initiative would also allow state and local governments, universities, nonprofit organizations, and other partners to come together to protect our drinking water and tackle increasing problems with flooding. The project will find the best ways to support the huge range of economies and jobs that the river basin's diverse cities and communities depend on. And it will help restore and protect critical habitat for the wildlife and fisheries that make the river and its tributaries a local and national treasure.

This is not a red-state or blue-state issue. This is our generation's legacy to the health, jobs, and well-being of our children and grandchildren.

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) represents the Eighth Congressional District. @RepBrianFitz
Greg Goldman is executive director of Audubon Pennsylvania.  @AudubonPA