Today, legislation introduced by Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons (D-Del.) to ensure continued sound management of the Delaware River Basin was approved by the U.S. Senate during debate over the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The Senate is expected to vote on the full WRDA bill this week.
The Delaware River Basin Commission is charged with managing the use of the Delaware River, including water allocation, flood loss reduction, drought management, permitting, and water quality monitoring and management. The members of the Commission, which includes the federal government, are required to provide its operating budget. However, over the past 17 years, the federal government has failed to contribute its required portion of funding to the Delaware River Basin Commission 16 times. This has contributed to imminent threats to the vital services that the Commission provides.
The Carper-Coons amendment directs the Army Corps of Engineers to annually fund the Delaware River Basin Commission's high-quality work providing critical water resources services to ensure that residents and businesses in Delaware and the region continue to benefit from access to clean, safe, and adequate water supply. If funding is not allocated in a fiscal year, the amendment requires the Army Corps to provide a report to Congress on the reason for the lack of funds and the impact on water supply allocation, water quality protection, water conservation, drought management, flood loss reduction, recreation and more.The amendment was also cosponsored by Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez (both D-N.J.), and Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (both D-N.Y.).
"Water is one of our most important natural resources, and our region is blessed with plentiful access from the Delaware River," said Senator Carper. "Since 1961, the Delaware River Basin Commission has helped to ensure that each of the states along the river, including Delaware, have access to its fair share of clean, safe water. The Commission's effective management of our water resources has helped to ensure that water is available for uses ranging from power generation to drinking and recreation, while avoiding the "water wars' -- fights over the use of limited water resources -- that other states have faced in recent years. That's why I introduced this amendment to WRDA. It directs the Army Corps to fully fund its share of managing a vital watershed for our state: the Delaware River Basin. For too long, the Army Corps has failed to deliver when it comes to funding the Delaware River Basin Commission; and when the commission is facing tighter and tighter budgets, the Corps' failure undermines the commission's ability to properly allocate and protect our water and provide for businesses and residents. Hopefully, this amendment will send a clear signal to the Army Corps to fulfill its duty and support the commission's work improving the quality and efficiency of the water resources so many Delawareans depend on."
"The Delaware River Basin Commission has protected our waterways and surrounding communities for more than 50 years," Senator Coons said. "Through the DRBC, our federal and state officials have worked together across state lines to address the problems of droughts, floods and pollution that have threatened the health and beauty of the Delaware River Basin. It's imperative that the federal government continues to provide adequate funding for the Commission to ensure that our regional economy continues to grow and our ecosystems remain intact."
Several interstate water agreements have been signed over the last few decades by states and the federal government to establish commissions to manage water resources within river basins. As a signatory to these commissions, the federal government has agreed through compacts authorized by federal law to contribute funding to the operating budget of each commission. The Army Corps of Engineers is typically the representative of the U.S. government on these commissions, and the 2007 WRDA bill established authority for the Army Corps to allocate funds to the Delaware, Susquehanna and Potomac commissions to cover the equitable funding requirement of each compact. However, despite being a full signatory member, the federal government has paid these apportionments only one time over the past 17 years.
Due to tight budgets, states have also started to contribute less, citing the lack of commitment from the federal government to pay its full share. As a result, some commissions are doubting their ability to continue to fulfill their legal responsibilities. This includes vital services like flood loss reduction, flow management and water supply, drought management, regulatory review and permitting, water quality monitoring and management, and adaptation and risk management.
This amendment would expand the authorization language in the 2007 WRDA bill to:
-Specify that the Army Corps must make funds available to the commissions from its General Expenses account (capped at 1.5% of the total Expenses budget) on an annual basis, and in amounts equal to the equitable funding requirements determined by each commission; and,
-Require a report from the Army Corps to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee if funding is not allocated in any fiscal year.