Delaware River Watershed Sees Growing Congressional Support, Spelling Hope for Birds

In the final days of 2020, Congress boosted funding for the crucial Delaware River Basin Restoration Program and critical regional conservation efforts.

In the midst of a never-ending news cycle, Congress passed a $2.3 trillion spending bill that will not only provide economic support for Americans affected by the coronavirus pandemic and appropriations to fund the federal government but also crucial funding for environmental restoration and resiliency efforts across the country.  

The Delaware River Watershed, often known as “our founding waters,” will receive a critical $300,000 increase for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) in this spending bill, totaling $10 million for the 2021 fiscal year. The DRBRP is a non-regulatory conservation program led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and established under the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act of 2016. While the USFWS coordinates strategic planning and conservation efforts across the watershed and directs funding to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for competitive grants, the annual appropriation of funds for the DRBRP lies with Congress. This three percent boost marks the third consecutive year of funding increases and a continuously growing support of the critically important landscape for birds and people across Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. 

The DRBRP provides key funding for efforts in Audubon’s expanding Delaware River Watershed Program that aim to protect habitat and clean, reliable water for the more than 400 bird species – including iconic birds as varied as the Red Knot, Wood Thrush and American Black Duck – and the 13.3 million people that depend on this watershed. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the watershed also serves as a yearly stopover site for the second largest population of migrating songbirds and raptors in North America, supporting thousands of birds.  

Created in 2016, the DRBRP leads conservation and restoration efforts across the entire Delaware River Watershed with ambitious goals to:  

  • Sustain and enhance fish and wildlife habitat restoration and conservation;  

  • Improve and maintain water quality to support fish and wildlife and drinking water;  

  • Sustain and enhance water management for volume and flood damage mitigation; and 

  • Improve recreational opportunities for public access.  

The restoration program has proven success by bringing stakeholders together across the watershed to inspire innovative grant-funded projects and initiatives (in 2018 and 2019)such as restoring eroded streambanks in Pennsylvania, engaging communities in stormwater education in New Jersey, planning for natural infrastructure projects in Delaware, upgrading storm culverts in New York, and supporting research to identify sources of microplastics across the watershed.  

Beginning this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will launch the Delaware Basin Conservation Collaborative, a partnership intended to steer strategy, to provide support, and lead coordination for the program.  

The Delaware River Watershed  

This watershed provides crucial ecosystems, commercial and recreational services, and supplies more than 13.3 million people with clean, reliable drinking water. It encompasses more than 13,500 square miles of land and a variety of vast forests across New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, including 400 miles of designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers and 700,000 acres of wetland habitat. 

Despite the vital role it plays for nature and communities, and a recognized need for restoration, investment in the Delaware River Watershed has lagged behind other iconic American waters. By way of comparison, Congress included $87.5 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program and $330 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the recent omnibus spending package.  

Audubon will continue to champion the Delaware River Watershed, increasing the visibility and stature it needs to fulfill its legacy.  


Take Action


If you live in the watershed and are eager to advocate for robust funding for programs and agencies vital to protecting our water resources, please join us with our coalition partners in the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed for a virtual “Hill Week” from March 8-12. Sign up here!