U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-8, wants the Delaware River to have what the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Long Island Sound already boast: federal support and a basinwide conservation strategy.
That’s why Fitzpatrick is co-sponsoring the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act, which is backed by a bipartisan group of 10 representatives from four states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Other representatives cosponsoring the act include Democrat Allyson Schwartz and Republican Patrick Meehan. The bill was originally introduced by Delaware Republican Michael Castle back in 2010, but it was reintroduced to the House of Representatives Wednesday, Feb. 13, by Rep. John Carney of Delaware.
The act would call on the secretary of the interior to help coordinate funding in order to protect and restore the Delaware River basin.
“My district of Bucks and Montgomery counties is literally the center and the heart of the Delaware River watershed,” Fitzpatrick said in a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 13. “It’s pretty personal and important to me and my constituents.”
He emphasized a need for a clean, healthy water supply, especially because the basin serves as a potable water source for 15 million people. In addition, about 8 million people live by the Delaware River, with some residents finding themselves a little too close to the river when flooding occurs.
“From time to time, the river actually enters into our homes and stays for a while,” he said. “It’s beautiful as long as the river is within the banks of the Delaware.”
Currently, Fitzpatrick noted, there are state, local and municipal organizations along the river that drum up resources to preserve the basin. With this bill, Fitzpatrick sees the potential for grants to become available, which would be subject to a 50 percent local match, essentially replacing some local dollars with federal dollars.
“Here in the nation’s capital, where 42 cents out of every dollar spent is borrowed, we are rightfully concerned about the cost of everything we do,” he said.
Fitzpatrick maintained that the act could be funded, however, without any new funds from the federal government. Instead, the funding would come from existing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Bureau appropriations, and it would give the Delaware River basin the same opportunity to compete for resources as other watersheds in the country.
“We’re righting a wrong,” Fitzpatrick said of the bill.
Brian Cowden from Trout Unlimited Eastern Conservation said the act would help in removing obsolete dams, increasing angling facilities and enabling organizations to work with local farmers to prevent fertilizer runoff from contaminating the river. According to Cowden, the river supplies 5 percent of the U.S. population with drinking water.
Robert Tudor, deputy director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, said he saw this bill giving more opportunities for wildlife and habitat enhancement and preserving the river’s recreational assets, in addition to better flood control. Tudor also mentioned that some studies suggest a healthy watershed is tied to a strong, regional economy. If the bill is passed, Tudor said he sees the river gaining equal status with sibling bays and estuaries along the Mid-Atlantic.
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