VIDEO, STORY & PHOTOS -- Leaders of conservation groups gathered with Delaware's federal legislators at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Smyrna today to celebrate a $5 million federal appropriation for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program.

Leaders of conservation groups gathered with Delaware's federal legislators at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Smyrna today to celebrate a $5 million federal appropriation for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program.

Representatives of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, Ducks Unlimited, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons at a press conference to discuss the significance Delaware plays within Delaware River Basin and new funding coming to the state.

For the first time in history, dedicated federal funding to Delaware River Basin states was secured through the subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations omnibus bill -- a total of $5 million -- for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP).

“Advocating for the passage of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act has been a top priority for the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed since our founding in 2012,” said Sandra Meola, Director for the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “Now, with the successful establishment and movement of the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, we are immensely grateful to Congressional champions who led on DRBRP funding for understanding the importance the basin has on the environment and economy of the region. This year’s funding and anticipated future funding directly translates into a protected watershed and healthier environment for Delawareans.”

The DRBRP was created after the 2016 passage of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act. The DRBRP is a non-regulatory effort that will be administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and will leverage private investment, regional partnerships, and local knowledge to protect and restore the resources of the basin. Funding from the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program will be available to nonprofits; state, federal, tribal and local governments; and educational institutions seeking to address pressing environmental issues within the Delaware River Basin.

Carper said the Delaware River Basin is a vital resource to the First State and its neighbors, contributing $25 billion to the region's economy while supporting thousands of jobs in the maritime, agriculture, tourism, hunting, fishing and wildlife industries throughout local communities.

"That’s why I’m so thrilled that the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program is being funded to further invest in the protection and preservation of this ecological treasure,” said Carper, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “This program, which was created by the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act -- my bill with Senator Chris Coons and then-Congressman John Carney -- will ensure the basin gets the support it needs so Delawareans can enjoy its benefits for generations to come.”

The Delaware River Basin encompasses portions of Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and supplies water to over 5 percent of the U.S. population, which is over 15 million people. The Delaware River is the only water source to provide drinking water for two major U.S. cities, Philadelphia and New York –- as well as Wilmington. In Delaware, the basin is an economic engine that must be protected, as jobs directly associated with the Delaware River Basin, such as fishing, recreation, tourism, water/sewer construction, water utilities, and ports, employ 15,737 people, earning $340 million in wages. In Delaware, the basin covers about 50 percent (965 square miles) of the land area yet includes 74 percent of the state's population.

“Congress has acknowledged the environmental and economic importance of the Delaware Basin by including $5 million for the Program for the first time in history,” said Coons, the first Delaware Senator in more than 40 years to serve on the critical Appropriations Committee. “In Delaware, this funding will directly impact our local communities for the better by leading to cleaner water, more green space, and increased wildlife habitat.”

The DRBRP funding will go toward on-the-ground land and water projects aimed at addressing some of the state’s environmental issues such as conserving and restoring fish and wildlife habitat, improving and maintaining water quality, sustaining and enhancing water management and reducing flood damage, and improving recreational opportunities and public access in the Delaware River Basin.

“We are pleased to develop this important new grant program as the cornerstone for implementation of the Delaware River Basin Restoration Act,” said Dr. Deborah Rocque, Deputy Northeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The Act outlines a long-term vision for the environmental, economic, and social health of the Delaware River watershed. By getting these funds on the ground, we will strengthen the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program Partnership and move forward toward that long-term vision for the watershed.”

Restoration of the Delaware River Basin through leveraging federal funds is already taking place in the Delaware River Basin at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, where Ducks Unlimited used North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve 1,082 acres of emergent and forested wetlands. After Friday’s press conference, a tour was given of the projects at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge that have improved the Delaware Bay for people and wildlife.

“The work that’s been done at Bombay Hook by Ducks Unlimited and its partners is thanks to funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," said Jake McPherson, regional biologist at Ducks Unlimited. "Without federal funds, we would not have been able to create habitat for ducks, geese, and other migrating birds. Bombay Hook is a prime example of federal dollars going directly to improving the Delaware River Basin. We look forward to the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program continuing to play this critical role for the state of Delaware.”

Using NAWCA grant funding, Ducks Unlimited enhanced 862 acres of emergent wetland pools that provide critical breeding habitat for amphibians and invertebrates, including salamanders and frogs. Ducks Unlimited also assisted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in restoring 220 acres of forested wetlands which buffers erosive actions of waves and storms, improves water quality by retaining and transforming excess nutrients and sediment, and provides bird habitat such as breeding grounds and nesting sites. Bombay Hook provides food and resources for waterfowl and other migratory birds and is recognized as one of America's 100 Important Bird Areas by the American Bird Conservancy.

“Delaware’s expansive coastal marshes, shoreline, agricultural lands and forests provide diverse habitats to many species and the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act funding is a great opportunity to invest in these natural resources here in Delaware,” stated Secretary Shawn Garvin of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “Conserving and restoring fish and wildlife habitat, improving and maintaining water quality, and recreational opportunities will collaboratively build on the region’s reputation as having unique and beautiful natural resources that Delawareans and visitors alike can enjoy.”

For fiscal year 2019, the House Appropriations Committee approved $5 million in May 2018 for the DRBRP and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $4 million for the DRBRP in mid-June. These approvals mark the first major hurdles in the federal budgeting process to secure DRBRP funding for the next fiscal year.