For the first time in two decades, the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware gathered in one room to commit to keeping the Delaware River clean.
Gov. Phil Murphy quipped that he has a wonderful view of the Delaware River from his Trenton office — but the view is of Pennsylvania. The joke drew a smile from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
For his part, Delaware Gov. John Carney reminded the other governors that his state is at the bottom of whatever happens upriver.
Their jokes at the Independence Seaport Museum made the point: The states are connected economically, environmentally, and recreationally by the river.
The governors signed a proclamation Thursday to reaffirm a commitment to work together to make the river fishable and swimmable, ensure high drinking-water quality standards, and keep the tidal shorelines and waters of the river accessible to the public. About 13.3 million people from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York get their drinking water from the Delaware River.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, where the river starts, was not present at the meeting. Organizers of the event cited a scheduling issue.
The governors of the four river-bordering states first came together in 1961 to sign the interstate compact that created the Delaware River Basin Commission. The federal agency’s mission was to protect a river so polluted, fish no longer could inhabit it. The governors met again in the 1980s and 1990s regarding the river.
Though much cleaner now, the river still faces a range of threats from overdevelopment to concerns about chemicals such as PFAS, the remnants of industry.
On Thursday, the three governors agreed to work as partners to protect what organizers of the event referred to as America’s “founding waterway.” The governors said they wanted to make the Delaware River Basin a national model for “sustainable economic development, drinkable clean water, healthy fish and wildlife populations, outdoor recreation, and nature-based climate resilience,” according to the proclamation.
The Delaware River flows 330 miles from the Catskills to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi and has 2,000 tributaries, which create its 13,539-square-mile watershed.
The governors hoped to build on momentum from the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, which received federal funding the last two years. The program received $6 million for fiscal year 2019, up $1 million from the previous year. The funding goes into grants to address environmental issues within the watershed.
The governors cited a number of programs in their states to address the problems, but said more help is needed from their congressional delegations to pay for the restoration program.
The three also shared support for a ban on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, within the basin. The Delaware River Basin Commission proposed last year to prohibit the process, used to extract natural gas. The commission is also proposing to change how wastewater from fracking is stored, treated, or disposed of within the basin. Environmental groups are asking for a full ban on any wastewater.
The commission is still reviewing thousands of comments from the public. The three governors, as well as Cuomo, are all members of the commission.
“The Delaware River is a great resource for recreation, an economic engine for the eastern part of our state, and a vital drinking water source for millions of Pennsylvanians,” said Wolf. “We’re proud of the work we’ve done to clean up our waterways and look forward to working with our neighboring states to continue our progress.”