Time to stop shortchanging the DRBC
Editorial Report

Delaware-2 DC

UPDATE:This version of the story corrects an error -- I thought that the Pa. legislature had already allocated $217,000. It might, or it could allocate the full share that Gov. Wolf is requesting, or some figure TBD.

If you're a fan of cliff-hangers, you might want to pay attention to what gets approved by the Pennsylvania legislature as it acts on Gov. Tom Wolf's budget proposal.

Last year, the Pennsylvania legislature only approved $217,000 for its support of the Delaware River Basin Commission. And this year? The governor proposed full funding for the Delaware River Basin Commission but the legislature hasn't always been sympathetic to the DRBC's actions on the care of the Delaware River, especially with regard to its pending decision on fracking in the watershed.

You might remember (if you haven't had much to do in the past year) that I wrote about this budgeting issue about a year ago.

That story, and this one, are rooted in how the DRBC is funded by the four states that border the river and the federal government -- represented on the commission by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

An important point to remember about the DRBC is that it is more than the (fairly modest) office it occupies in West Trenton, N.J.: The commission is the four governors of the four states, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware, along with the U.S.A.C.E.

Those five parties agreed in 1988 to what they termed a Fair Share apportionment from each entity to support the work of the DRBC, which is to regulate the quality and quantity of water in the Delaware.

At that time, they agreed to a percentage of the DRBC's budget as follows:

The two states with the longest river frontage, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, agreed to 25%.

New York agreed to 17.5%; Delaware to 12.5%.

Contributions from the states have waxed and waned over the years, sometimes depending on the party in power in each state, sometimes simply on what priority the DRBC had for each of its commissioners/states. You'd be right in thinking this variability can create a sort of chicken-and-egg quality to the DRBC's budget process, with the budget depending on the appropriation but the appropriation up in the air.

DC Chart

As I wrote last year, Delaware's contribution is $447,000 and has been since 2010, and every year (except 2011) it has met the obligation fully. (Yay Delaware!)

New York's contributions reached a high of $608,000 in 2008 but has been steadily falling since then, missing its agreed-upon mark of $626,000 every year, settling now at a routine $359,500.

New Jersey was giving its full share -- $893,000 -- from 2008 to 2012, then it dropped to $693,000, where it has stayed. The finalized budget isn't due until July 1st, but it's unlikely that the numbers from N.J. will shift much.

Gov. Tom Wolf 's budget allocates the full Fair Share amount for the DRBC of $893,000. Pennsylvania's actual funding hasn't come close to that for five years, and has been steadily declining to last year's low of $217,000.

We have to wait and see what the outcome is this year.

There's important work to be done in this era of climate change to insure our sources for clean water stay steady. People have all sorts of opinions about the DRBC -- that it's too slow to rule on an important issue like fracking. On the other side of that fence, you might think the DRBC is over-reaching by having any sort of regulatory authority on the issue.

But we're all interested in clean water, in taking precautions not to run out of water during droughts, or conversely, trying to avoid flooding. Those are the areas that the DRBC is specifically charged by the states to keep its eye on.

Many of our elected officials have little reason to keep abreast of the DRBC. It's one of hundreds of agencies with its hand out. But we are starting to understand the role that good water in adequate quantity has to play in the lives of the 15 million people that count on getting their drinking water from the Delaware River.

So maybe it's up to us, the people who are beginning to understand how the water system operates, to let our state senators and representatives  -- in all the border states -- know that we care about the Delaware and that we want them to support the work of the DRBC.

What's more, you might want to contact your United States senator and representative -- especially those in the basin -- to wake the federal government up to the simple fact that the federal government hasn't given a penny to the upkeep of the DRBC since 2009/2010 and before that, not since 1997.

There's a complicated two-step process to get money from the feds. First it has to be authorized, then appropriated. Well, the money has been authorized but never appropriated.

And it's not likely to be unless members of Congress from the basin states start agitating for it. If you'd like to know who those people are in the state and federal legislatures check out the list that the DRBC maintains: https://www.nj.gov/drbc/basin/intergovernmental/

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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