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Op-Ed - Collaboration is Essential to Watershed Conservation


Location: Wilmington, DE

The Delaware River Basin Watershed, encompassing portions of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, is one of the nation's most important natural landscapes. The Delaware River and Bay, and the many tributaries that feed into them, are among Delawareans' favorite areas for recreation and wildlife appreciation.

Far beyond the enjoyment we get from the Basin, are many unseen contributions such as its role as an economic driver.

Over 8 million people call the basin home and over 15 million rely on its waters for drinking and industrial uses and yet, it lacks a coordinated conservation strategy on par with major watersheds around the country, most notably the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

While there are a number of organizations doing outstanding work, the basin lacks a coordinated framework and dedicated federal support to conserve and restore the natural resources, fish and wildlife.

The basin has important living resources that need protection, including oysters, migratory birds, fish, wetlands and forests, to name a few. And, there is a great deal of important work underway in all four basin states, and the agencies and organizations deserve a lot of credit for their ongoing commitment to restoration efforts.

However, I have also learned from working with a diverse group of stakeholders in our community that there is great interest in strengthening partnerships and improving coordination, among states, federal and local agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

We know from other watersheds that when it comes to conservation, collaboration has a greater impact than individual efforts. To further this goal, I have worked with area organizations to develop legislation that would to create a federal umbrella for a coordinated conservation strategy of the Delaware watershed.

I introduced The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (H.R. 4698), which employs a voluntary, non-regulatory framework for coordinating conservation efforts, and increases federal resources for on-the-ground projects that get results. The bill requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to act as a facilitator in order to build on current efforts in the basin.

Under the legislation, the needs of the Basin will be identified; living resources, restoring and protecting fish and wildlife habitat and water quality will be prioritized; and a road map for implementation will be developed.

With very little dedicated federal funding for current conservation efforts in the basin, the bill authorizes $5 million annually for competitive grants and technical assistance to support a variety of priority projects. With this plan, we will identify our shared conservation priorities and be able to measure our progress.

While this legislation is an important step towards fostering coordination, it will not be effective without the backing of the agencies, organizations and communities that we heavily rely on to be the stewards of our cherished waterways and land areas in the Basin. It is essential to include the ongoing efforts and priorities of these stakeholders and include their input on how best to truly make a positive impact on the Basin region.

At a recent roundtable discussion on watershed-based conservation and restoration opportunities in the Watershed, we met with DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara, representatives from federal agencies, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and local conservation organizations engaged in the basin.

We are lucky to have so many great partners in Delaware and the support of Secretary O'Mara, American Rivers, Delaware Nature Society, Delaware River Basin Commission, Ducks Unlimited, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, The Nature Conservancy in Delaware, Trout Unlimited and White Clay Creek National Wild and Scenic River, among others.

Published in the Wilmington News Journal on July 22, 2010

Protecting our Delaware River basin is essential to providing clean drinking water, fostering recreational activities, protecting fish and wildlife habitats, and safeguarding the surrounding areas from flooding.

As we are unfortunately learning from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, our natural resources are vulnerable to manmade disasters and every effort must be made to protect, conserve and restore them for the well-being and enjoyment of all.

Cooperative efforts, like the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act, will allow us to ensure this national treasure of great cultural, environmental, and ecological importance is as vibrant as it can be.

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