August 7, 2013 —
Fresh water is a precious natural resource that is likely to become even more precious as development pressures increase and competing demands for it grow. This will be so even in the Delaware River watershed, where at first blush you’d think there will always be enough clean, fresh water to go around, providing both drinking water and recreational opportunities for many millions of people.
The days of dumping sewage and industrial wastes into the river are long gone, in no small part thanks to some wise officials more than 50 years ago who created a legal compact among four states (New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware) and the federal government to manage the river system without regard to political boundaries. This body, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), was granted the authority of law. It can, however, not grant its own funding, and there’s the rub.
Last week the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) took up this matter in a letter to three of the Upper Delaware River Valley’s Congressional Representatives, asking for their support in the U.S. House to pass the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2013, as the Senate did in the spring, including approval to restore the federal government’s 20% share of DRBC funds. “For 16 of the last 17 years,” the letter states, “the federal government has failed to fund its apportionment of the Commission’s [DRBC’s] annual budget, while continuing to enjoy the same authorities and privileges as its fellow signatory parties. The cumulative federal shortfall of nearly $11 million threatens to severely curtail the agency’s operational effectiveness.”
Since its creation, the DRBC has played a leading role in cleaning up the Delaware River—adopting comprehensive water quality standards, implementing regulations, enforcing those standards and working to prevent water quality degradation through monitoring programs, remediation projects and disbursal of vital information to hundreds of stakeholder organizations in the river basin. (www.state.nj.us/drbc/programs/quality/index.html )
Like it or not, if we want clean fresh water in the decades ahead, we need the DRBC. It is the only body powerful enough to achieve it.
It is regrettable that the DRBC is not getting the respect it deserves, whether it is from the federal government, which has not kept its commitment for financial support, or other organizations, like the Northern Wayne Property Owners Association (NWPOA), a coalition of Wayne County landowners with natural gas fracking leases. The NWPOA has threatened to sue the DRBC for what it sees as failure to establish rules for fracking in a timely manner. What might happen with such a potential lawsuit is not clear now that two natural gas companies already have declared that they will not renew the leases of Wayne County leaseholders.
We believe that the moratorium was necessary and appropriate until all safety questions about fracking and its potential effect on water quality were answered. Furthermore, in our opinion, attacks on the staff of the DRBC are inappropriate—attacking the messenger instead of those who are in charge of the message. The real power of the DRBC rests with the governors of the four states and the federal government, represented on the commission by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The truth is that if those five powerful parties wanted and could agree on fracking regulations, the DRBC staff would have prepared them and there would be fracking regulations.
The UDC is right to stand by the DRBC and correctly states that the U.S. House of Representatives now has the opportunity to do the right thing by approving the federal government’s fair share of the funding necessary for this able body to continue its important work.
[For a news article about the UDC vote to support the DRBC, see story  by David Hulse.]