A recently created federal program to protect the vast Delaware River watershed will receive $6 million this year as part of a sweeping bill signed Friday by President Donald Trump to fund federal agencies and avoid a partial government shutdown.
The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program received $5 million in funding in its initial year, 2018. The $1 million increase this year in the Interior Department budget is a good sign, say those involved in watershed conservation efforts.
“The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program represents a critical investment in the future of our region," said Sandra Meola, director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. "The program provides funding required to restore habitat for fish and wildlife species, keep our watershed clean and healthy, expand recreational access, and provide job opportunities.”
The basin, commonly referred to as a watershed, comprises 12,500 square miles of land in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware that ultimately drain into the river either directly or through tributaries. About 15 million people depend on the Delaware River for drinking water.
In 2016, Congress passed a bill that led to the creation of the restoration program. The goal is to conserve and restore habitat for fish and other wildlife, improve water quality, reduce flood damage, and provide recreational activities.
The $6 million will go into a conservation fund overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support environmental and conservation organizations through a series of grants for “boots-on-the-ground conservation projects.”
Meola said the basin is threatened by “overdevelopment, storm water runoff, flooding, stream erosion, and loss of wildlife habitat.” She said the restoration projects will address those needs.
Jacquelyn Bonomo, CEO of PennFuture, said restoring the basin is “crucial” for Pennsylvania. The Schuylkill and Lehigh River are large tributaries of the Delaware River.
“From the Poconos down to Philadelphia, nonprofits and state and local governments will be able to apply for fiscal year 2019 Delaware River Basin Restoration Program funding for site-specific projects that result in cleaner water, more green space, and restored wildlife habitat,” Bonomo said.
The government restoration program is separate from the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, a partnership of conservation organizations also working to protect the basin and funded largely privately by $100 million in grants from the William Penn Foundation. However, organizations hope to use money from both programs as part of conservation projects.