As spring migration begins, birds like the Red Knot and the American Oystercatcher are preparing to journey through the Delaware River Watershed, using places like Delaware Bay as a stopping location on their trip north to rest and refuel. Nearly 400 bird species, and more than 13.3 million people, depend on the Delaware River for clean water, which is why Audubon is leading efforts to restore and protect the Delaware River Watershed.
We are working throughout the watershed to restore pollinator habitat, protect forests, engage communities, and advocate for clean water policies and funding. Working alongside community partners, Audubon offered our voice and expertise to the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed’s (CDRW’s) annual Hill Week. During the week of March 7, more than 70 individuals met with 28 Congressional offices to discuss our collective priorities. We are grateful for the combined efforts of the CDRW and for a truly bipartisan week celebrating clean water in the Delaware for birds and people alike.
One of the annual Hill Week requests is funding for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP). The DRBRP, a critical restoration program administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, received $10.5 million in the last spending bill, signed earlier in March. While this is a slight increase over the previous year ($10 million), it was below our original request of $15 million. The DRBRP funds important on-the-ground work throughout the watershed and doesn’t receive close to the amounts appropriated for other waterways like the Great Lakes ($348 million in FY22) or the Chesapeake Bay ($88 million in FY22). We are hopeful that Congress funds the DRBRP at $15 million for FY23.
The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA) created the DRBRP in 2016. Recent leadership from Senator Carper (DE) and Representative Evans (PA) to introduce legislation reauthorizing the DRBCA (S. 3767 / H.R. 6949) is a win for birds and communities throughout the watershed. The new legislation also changes the matching requirements for small rural or disadvantaged communities – meaning these communities could be eligible for up to 90 percent of federal funding for projects. By reducing the match requirement to 10 percent for small, rural, or disadvantaged communities, these federal dollars will be more equitably distributed. The bipartisan support of this reauthorization bill from other Members of Congress, including Senators Schumer, Menendez, Booker, Coons, and Casey, and Representatives Maloney, Coleman, Carson, Norton, Malinowski, Houlahan, Wild, Scanlon, Rochester, Delgado, and Fitzpatrick, shows the growing interest in conserving this important Mid-Atlantic watershed.
While excited for recent increases and steps toward progress, Audubon will continue to push for increased federal funding for the DRBRP, passage of the DRBCA reauthorization act, and any other policies or funding opportunities that support birds, people, and clean water for the Delaware River Watershed.