W hile the Delaware River is America’s founding water, unfortunately for years it’s been neglected. Pennsylvania is among four states that include portions of the Delaware River Watershed, along with New Jersey, Delaware and New York.

In Pennsylvania, 17 of the state’s 67 counties are entirely or partly within the watershed. The Delaware also supplies drinking water to the City of Philadelphia and more than 15 million people across the watershed, which is 5 percent of the U.S. population. Thankfully, new initiatives taking place within the Delaware River Watershed are providing a pathway to a cleaner, healthier watershed for the people and wildlife that call it home.

Since 2012, securing funding for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program has been a top priority for the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, a network of more than 125 non-governmental organizations dedicated to protecting the natural resources of the Delaware River. This past March, for the first time in history, dedicated federal funding for the Delaware River was approved when the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program received $5 million as part of the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill approved by Congress.

The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program is a non-regulatory program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and includes efforts to implement conservation, stewardship and enhancement projects that conserve and restore fish and wildlife habitat, improve and maintain water quality, sustain and enhance water management and reduce flood damage, and improve recreational opportunities and public access in the Delaware River Basin. Thanks to champions in Congress, now funds and expertise will be provided for on-the-ground conservation and restoration projects throughout the basin.

Additionally, in April the William Penn Foundation announced more than $40 million in new funding for the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, which stands among the country’s largest non-regulatory conservation efforts to protect and restore clean water. The Delaware River Watershed Initiative is a collaborative effort of 65 non-governmental organizations working together to revitalize the Delaware River Watershed. As the lead funder to date, the William Penn Foundation’s investment in the DRWI now totals more than $100 million. Both the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program funds and Delaware River Watershed Initiative funds can be leveraged for greater impact for use on projects within the watershed. With the success of the Program and the Initiative, we are moving many steps closer to healthier communities and cleaner water.

Not only is it important to invest in our waterways to defend public health, but the Delaware also is a huge economic driver for the Mid-Atlantic region. In fact, according to a report from the University of Delaware, the Delaware River brings in about $20 billion annually in economic activity. The Delaware River provides ecosystem goods and services, which in 2010, brought in $21 billion. The Delaware Basin also supports 600,000 direct/indirect jobs with $10 billion in wages in the coastal, ecotourism, ports, farm, water/wastewater and recreation industries.

Another key strategy for safeguarding the Delaware River began earlier this year when the National Wildlife Federation, along with partners in the four watershed states, launched the 4theDelaware campaign. The 4theDelaware campaign is urging the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York to strengthen collaboration and expand support for the Delaware River. From the Upper Delaware in the Catskills, to the Pocono Mountains, through the New Jersey Highlands, into Philadelphia and down to the Delaware Bay - the Delaware River is the lifeblood of our region and we need strong leadership to preserve it.

While progress has been made to restore the Delaware, there are still critical issues facing the watershed like polluted waterways, loss of wildlife habitat, invasive plant and animal species, and the effects of climate change. Governor Cuomo, Governor Murphy, Governor Wolf and Governor Carney must come together to stand up for the Delaware. By prioritizing the Delaware, these Governors can ensure that the strides currently being made are sustained over the long-term, and that the health and economic value of the river are forever secured.

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Kelly Mooij is the vice president of government relations for New Jersey Audubon and co-chair of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed.

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