“We are pulling out drought management plans,” Carol Collier, executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) told members of the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) at their meeting on April 5. “We’ve received six inches of precipitation across the basin this year, which is about 4 inches below what it should be at this time.”
Impending drought conditions are not the only concern of the DRBC, which is facing serious budget shortfalls this year. When established as an interstate regulatory agency comprised of the four states in the Delaware River Basin (New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware) and the federal government, each state agreed to provide equitable apportionments of the DRBC’s operating budget.
According to Collier, the DRBC hasn’t received its federal funding except once, since 1996. And while both New Jersey and Delaware are at full funding levels, the remaining states are not. “New York State cut us down to 39% of our fair share budget,” said Collier. “And in January, Pennsylvania put a freeze on $400,000, which is 40% of our budget.”
In response, the UDC approved letters to New York Governor Cuomo and Pennsylvania Governor Corbett noting that New York’s 2012-13 budget includes a payment of $246,000 to the DRBC, approximately 40% of its full $626,000 share and a $109,000 reduction from last year. In Pennsylvania, a budgetary freeze of 40.7% ($400,000) of its Fiscal Year 2012 payment to the DRBC has been instituted and payments for the second and third quarter are outstanding. A 5% reduction of Pennsylvania’s
share is proposed in the fiscal year 2013 budget.
The letters point out that the cuts, in addition to the federal government’s longstanding cumulative DRBC funding shortfall that is now in excess of $9 million, seriously jeopardize the DRBC’s ability to function. “The cuts could have a devastating impact throughout the basin by threatening the continuation of vital, cooperative projects and partnerships sponsored or facilitated by the commission,” the UDC asserts.
Collier also detailed the water quality monitoring initiatives the agency is involved in. DRBC would like to do more macroinvertebrate studies in the region as well as expand main stem river monitors to include more tributaries.
The United States Geological Survey is conducting a nationwide water census and the Delaware River Basin is one of the pilot studies. “They are studying impacts to water supply in the basin,” said Collier. “Part of that is looking at climate change, which not only can create more intense storms for flooding, but also create more summer droughts.”
Collier pointed out that the lower basin might see up to a meter sea level rise over the century, which could allow the salt line to rise. “If that’s so, do we need more water at Trenton to keep that down and if we do, where is that water going to come from?” asked Collier. “We’re working with the Army Corps of Engineers to connect our water flow model to their salinity models so we can do some scenario tests.”
Regarding DRBC’s proposed regulations for natural gas development, Collier reported that although DRBC commissioners have been participating in bi-weekly phone calls, the chair of the Army Corps of Engineers is calling for a face-to-face meeting.
DRBC is also responding to a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) lawsuit from New York State, which could have significant repercussions according to Collier. “The Attorney General first sued our federal member and some other federal agencies, then sued DRBC. It’s the first time that one of our states has sued DRBC, saying that we are a federal agency and therefore should be doing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for natural gas drilling.”
The DRBC maintains it is not a federal agency because its purpose is to bring the states and federal government together on equal planes. “If we are required to do NEPA, it really affects states’ rights,” explained Collier. “When they signed up for the commission, they didn’t really think they were signing up for the federal requirements. And it would be required for everything else we do.”
The next DRBC commissioners meeting is scheduled for May 10. Visit www.state.nj.us/drbc  for more information.