Maybe it’s time to have a bake sale for the DRBC
Editorial report

The Delaware River Basin Commission meeting DC
The Delaware River Basin Commission meeting Sept. 11, 2019 at Mercer County Community College, from left: Pam Bush, Commission Secretary and Asst. Gen. Counsel; Kenneth Warren, Gen. Counsel; Bryan Ashby, Delaware; Kenneth Kosinski, New York; Steve Tambini, Ex. Dir., DRBC; LTC David Park, U.S.A.C.E.; Aneca Atkinson, Pa.; Jeffrey Hoffman, New Jersey PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

(Sound of a knuckle tapping a mic)

"Tap, tap, tap. Is this thing on?!"

Here I am, again, writing about the Delaware River Basin Commission's budget.


And the possibility -- probability? -- that all its members won't fulfill the promise made at the start of the DRBC in 1961 to fully fund it so it can do its work.

And what is its work? The Delaware River's water quality and quantity.

Are you concerned about whether our water is safe? Or about whether there's enough water (drought preparedness)? Or too much (flood preparedness). These are all under the DRBC's mandate.

The chart here shows that there was money allocated from all five members (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the federal government) from its inception. This chart's starting point is 1963. The money committed was steadily rising until 2009 when it reached its high point of $3,347,170.

Instead of increasing, the amounts given by the states and the feds has dwindled, falling every year.

Lots of people have issues with the DRBC. Some people think it could rob people of their right to profit from their land if the watershed fracking ban gets passed.

On the other hand, some people think the DRBC drags its feet on important issues like that very same fracking ban, which has been "tabled" pending DRBC action since 2011.

Whatever your point of view, the DRBC provides one of the best places to have your voice heard. It holds public hearings on all projects needing its approval in the watershed, and though those meetings are usually held in the daytime when most people work, there's almost always a smattering of representatives of whatever projects are on its agenda, as well as a pretty stalwart group of environmental leaders across the watershed, ready to argue/plead with the commission.

As state and federal bureaucracies become less and less transparent, it's good to have this one spot of sunlight, even though the commission can get a little riled by negative comments, at least those comments are heard.

Remember that the commission members are the governors of the four states, so politics plays a role in its decisions. The fifth member, the federal government, is represented by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

So the DRBC is subject to political pressure, and more: If the states don't like what it's doing, they can turn off the faucet. Those financial faucets have been on and off over the years.

There was a move in 1988 to end the confusion, which makes budgeting and planning a nightmare. All five members/signatories agreed to this funding breakdown:

Delaware:       12.5%
New York:       17.5.%
New Jersey:    25%
Pennsylvania:  25%
United States: 20%

Under that agreement the five signatories' amounts should now be::

Delaware:  $447,000
New York:  $626,000
New Jersey: $893,000
Pennsylvania:  $893,000
United States:  $715,000

For a grand total of $3,574,000.

The actual budget -- those state and federal contributions -- that the DRBC now works with is $1,716,00, less than half the agreed-upon amount.

The feds have been the biggest deadbeats. They contributed regularly until 1998, then nothing until 2009/10. After that nothing.

Nada. Zilch. Bupkis.

Imagine you buy a car, and don't pay anything on it for 10 years. Do you think that car would still be taking you to and from work?

It's really confounding since the size of the U.S. budget makes this $715,000 less than a drop in the bucket.

Despite many calls into various arms of the U.S.A.C.E., the answer is always full of red tape and obfuscation, tied into the two-stage process of wringing money out of the federal government. But the simple fact remains, the U.S. Army doesn't put the request in its budget. Also note, the Army is a bureaucracy that doesn't respond to pressure from voters.

The first stage of the DRBC budget process is set with these governors proposing full funding:

Gov. Tom Wolf (Pa.) $893,000
Gov.  Phil Murphy (N.J.)  $893,00
Gov. John Carney (Del.)  $447,000

New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo, unfortunately, has stuck to the reduced figure of $359,000, which has held constant for the past six years. That's instead of its promised $626,000.

These figures still have to be chewed over by the state legislatures, so it's likely, for example, that the Pa. Legislature, dominated by the GOP, will take a bite out of Democrat Gov. Wolf's proposal, and reduce it to as little as $217,000, which is what the state gave in the past three years.

And once again, the DRBC's budget is being built with no support expected from the feds.

C'mon, guys and gals, it's not that much for our water!! Especially as we're all finally realizing that climate change could have a huge impact on our water system.

If you're concerned about our water quality and quantity, you should find your state legislator in this DRBC listing here. Let him or her know that you want your state to fully fund the DRBC.

Even better, find your federal lawmakers here. Light a fire under their behinds, so they can in turn light one under the U.S. Army's.

Now that could prove interesting!

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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