Thursday, October 20, 2022

Coalition For The Delaware River Watershed Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of Federal Clean Water Act

On October 19, member of Congress Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) joined with environmental advocates and the
Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW) at Bartram’s Garden to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the federal Clean Water Act

They highlighted millions of dollars of additional federal and state investments over the past year that will improve water quality in the region and called on Congress to act quickly to pass important legislation that will further protect the drinking water of millions in our region.

The Clean Water Act is seminal legislation that is a cornerstone of environmental protection. Its provisions have led to healthier waterways across our region, including the Delaware River, and have been essential to protecting the drinking water of millions of people.

The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW) partnered with Rep. Evans and other advocates to celebrate a half a century of accomplishments and investments in our watershed. 

They particularly highlighted recent investments at the federal and state levels that are bringing tens of millions of dollars to improve water quality and address environmental concerns in the region.

“Thanks to the success of the Clean Water Act, we have been able to clean, restore, and protect major Delaware River waterways,” said Kelly Knutson, Director, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “It’s gratifying to see continued support through the millions of dollars invested over the past year at both the federal and state level to protect our waterways. Now, we’re calling on Congress to take the next step in improving our region’s water quality.”

At the federal level, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law President Biden signed into law last year included $26 million for restoration projects in the Delaware River. 

The infrastructure legislation also included billions more dollars to address flooding, reduce stormwater runoff and address pollution in waterways across the country – millions of that will go to our region.

At the same time, the landmark [Climate and Energy] Inflation Reduction Act President Biden signed into law over the summer includes nearly $370 billion to fight climate change, which will help tackle the root causes of flooding and environmental degradation.

In addition, a strong bipartisan majority in the state legislature approved $800 million in conservation funding for this year’s Pennsylvania state budget. 

That has resulted in the creation of a new state park in Southeastern Pennsylvania as well as investments in preserving ecologically sensitive areas, expanding access to open space in underserved communities and improving water quality.

“Here in Philadelphia, the Clean Water Act has helped preserve the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, providing us with clean drinking water, recreational opportunities, a thriving ecosystem for our local wildlife, and has supported thousands of jobs over the years,” said Congressman Dwight Evans (PA-03). “The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act is the biggest piece of environmental legislation in American history. It will help move America away from toxic fuel sources that pollute our waters, and help fight climate change that threatens the ecosystems and sustainability of our rivers, lakes, and streams.”

But even among all the celebrating, advocates know there is much more to do.

Nearly 50 years after the enactment of the Clean Water Act, 50% of assessed American waterways are impaired by pollution ― meaning they do not meet their individual state’s water quality standards for designated uses, including recreation, aquatic life, fish consumption, or drinking water sources.

In Pennsylvania specifically, 30% of waterways are impaired for any use. The streams, rivers, and estuaries in the Delaware River Basin are some of the most impacted in the country.

With all this in mind, advocates want to ensure the same support and attention given to other areas is also given to the Delaware River and are calling for swift action on Rep. Dwight Evans’ legislation which would continue the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, which ensures continued federal investments to protect our water supply. It’s passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House. 

The Coalition is also calling on Congress to provide $8.1 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) in FY2023 with $1.553 billion dedicated to Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, which would provide low interest loans to local governments which will help those communities. 

CDRW strongly supports targeting 20 percent of these funds toward green infrastructure and innovative projects to address nonpoint source pollution, and at least 40 percent in each state for more subsidization for disadvantaged communities in both urban and rural areas.

While celebrating the achievements that have come from 50 years of the Clean Water Act, we must continue our pursuit of safe and clean water and ensure focus on our most impaired waters and those that have been historically ignored — including the Delaware River. Protecting our water at its source and ensuring safe water quality for all is critical to the health and well-being of our Delaware River Basin communities, and while we reflect, it’s critical to look to the future to see how we can better advocate and protect our water resources.

Additional remarks from environmental advocates:

“Our communities on the northern Delaware River, which provides 60% of the City’s drinking water, are directly seeing the benefits of the Clean Water Act,” said Stephanie Phillips, Executive Director Riverfront North Partnership. “We are seeing more people than ever enjoying nature on their river and they, in turn, are seeing endangered plant and wildlife species like sturgeon on our shorelines”

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we recognize the great strides we have made in improving the water quality of our rivers and streams both nationally and in the Delaware River Basin. The last 50 years have illustrated what a huge difference advocates can make in protecting our waterways,” said Colleen Walters, Delaware River Basin Program Manager at River Network. “There remains a need to defend our waters and communities against current threats, environmental injustices, and climate change. At River Network, we will push to keep the momentum going by training water advocates across the country with the newly updated Clean Water Act Owner’s Manual.”

“While we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act on the Delaware River Watershed and nationwide, we also have a lot more work to do to ensure we uphold key protections and to make further progress to realize the vision of clean water and healthy rivers everywhere, for everyone,” said Lia Mastropolo, Director, Clean Water Supply at American Rivers.

“The Clean Water Act is vital to protecting fish and wildlife throughout the Delaware River Watershed. During the past fifty years, the Act has spurred clean-ups of polluted areas, restoring waters that previously couldn’t support aquatic life, as well as providing protection for areas of the watershed that contain exceptional water quality and unique species,” said Jennifer Orr-Green, Eastern Policy Director at Trout Unlimited. “The Act has resulted in restored migratory fish populations, intact riparian areas that are so vital to healthy ecosystems, and enhanced habitats for waterfowl. Sportsmen and women throughout the watershed celebrate these successes in protecting these special areas for future generations to enjoy.” 

"Many of the Garden’s nearest neighbors in Southwest Philadelphia remember a time before the Clean Water Act, when the river in their backyards was dangerously polluted and unsafe, and many of our favorite activities at Bartram’s Garden—like free public boating and fishing—simply would not have been possible 50 years ago. Now, local youth and families from Southwest Philadelphia routinely enjoy paddling and fishing along the tidal Schuylkill in big numbers at Bartram’s Garden, connecting with the watershed for recreation and learning,” said Maitreyi Roy, Bartram’s Garden Executive Director. “As we contend with climate change and riverfront developments, I hope that we can continue to partner with neighbors and our watershed peers to strengthen and improve community access to the tidal Schuylkill River and its continued ecological restoration. Just imagine what the Garden’s riverfront will look like 50 years from now!"

For more information on programs, initiatives, upcoming events and how you can get involved, visit the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed website.

(Photo: Congressman Evans and Kelly Knutson, Executive Director Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed.)

Related Article:

-- Guest Essay: Before The Federal Clean Water Act, There Was The Rivers And Harbors Act Of 1899 To Help Clean-Up Pittsburgh’s 3 Rivers - By James M. Seif, Former EPA Region III Administrator, Secretary of DEP

[Posted: October 20, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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