A chorus calls for N.Y. State funding for the Upper Delaware

| August 10, 2021

From left: Francis O'Shea, Trust for Public Land; Kelly Knutson, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed; Sherri Resti-Thomas, Friends of the Upper Delaware River; Molly Oliver FUDR; Richelle Dufton, FUDR; Vincent Sapienza, New York City Department of Environmental Protection; Aileen Gunther, N.Y. Assemblywoman; Lisa D'Arrigo, New York League of Conservation Voters; Mike Martucci, N.Y. State Senator; William Cooke, The Nature Conservancy (NY);  Julie Tighe, NYLCV; Jeff Skelding, FUDR.  PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
From left: Francis O'Shea, Trust for Public Land; Kelly Knutson, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed; Sherri Resti-Thomas, Friends of the Upper Delaware River; Molly Oliver FUDR; Richelle Dufton, FUDR; Vincent Sapienza, New York City Department of Environmental Protection; Aileen Gunther, N.Y. Assemblywoman; Lisa D'Arrigo, New York League of Conservation Voters; Mike Martucci, N.Y. State Senator; William Cooke, The Nature Conservancy (NY); Julie Tighe, NYLCV; Jeff Skelding, FUDR. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

There was an alphabet soup represented on the shores of the Delaware last week: the FUDR, the NYCDEP, the CDRW and the NYLCV. Oh, and the TPL!

They were all gathered there for one thing: M-O-N-E-Y.

Progress has been made on the federal level getting money back to the upper river, now it’s the turn of the state to show its support for the Delaware River, which is a significant economic engine for the economically depressed region.

So it made sense that two Delaware River region state legislators — N.Y. Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, and N.Y. State Senator Mike Martucci — were there as well, since they will be the “torchbearers” to help bring those dollars back home.

It also made sense that the president of the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) was there since it tracks legislative promises and whether those promises were kept.

And does the New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) fit into these funding machinations? 

On the surface, not exactly. But it is a keystone element whenever you talk Delaware River because the headwaters of the Delaware are captured in two huge reservoirs: the Pepacton and the Cannonsville — which, with the Neversink, supplies as much as 60% of New York City’s water.

Once upon a time, that was the NYCDEP’s  sole focus — drinking water for New York City. Over the past 10 years and more, its focus has widened to include the millions of people below its dams. After all, the Delaware is a significant source of Philadelphia’s drinking water — and for Trenton and a host of municipalities in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

It’s no surprise to hear Vincent (“Call me Vinney”) Sapienza, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, say that he’s here “to learn how the (NYC)DEP can collaborate and support the people who live here.”

“We have recognized,” says Sapienza, “that no one can make positive change without the collaboration of others.”

So here’s the not-so-secret sauce:  C-O-L-L-A-B-O-R-A-T-I-O-N. 

An unstoppable local force pitted against the immovable object of the state’s funding.

And what will this money get? A concrete example was the very ground beneath our feet: a public park being created through the collaboration among the Trust for Public Land (TPL) Sullivan County and the Town of Delaware.

“It was a campground which was damaged in the floods of ’05 and ’06,” explains Francis O’Shea from the Trust for Public Land, “and not much was done with it. Three years ago, we negotiated a deal that will create a new public park in an underserved area of the world.”

Collaborations have earned upper river communities significant federal funding for projects like stream bank restoration, flood mitigation, research into invasive species, habitat creation and/or stabilization and as here, improving river access. 

The glue for many of these collaborative efforts is the host of this “Day on the Delaware”: the Friends of the Upper Delaware River (FUDR). Its executive director, Jeff Skelding, has been seeking collaborators near and far to amplify the “voice” of the upper river region, like Trout Unlimited and the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW), whose work (with its many partners) over the past few years can be credited with bringing much of those federal dollars to the whole basin.

The upper river collaborations have been brought under one umbrella: the Alliance for the Upper Delaware River Watershed. A definition as well as the list of alliance members is below.

And here’s a story about it: https://delawarecurrents.org/2021/02/18/new-alliance-seeks-to-amplify-upper-delaware-river-voices/

Spurring all this collaborative action is the proviso that federal dollars must be matched dollar-for-dollar. So key to further projects for the Upper Delaware will be accessing state dollars to be used to match federal dollars.

“We don’t want to leave money on the table,” said Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

Martucci agreed, “It’s time for the state to kick in.”

He stood shoulder to shoulder with Gunther, as if on issues like this, party affiliation matters much less. He called for a “sustained commitment to the river from the state.”

New York State Senator Mike Martucci, a Republican, stands by as Democratic New York Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther talks about collaboration. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

The figure bandied about as a goal was $1 million, likely as a line item in the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

“I would bet a million dollars that this will happen,” said Gunther to smiles from the audience since that’s the figure these groups are aiming for.

“I’m all in,” she says, and went on to explain that the process works best if the information about how much money is needed for what is “spoon-fed” to legislators. 

“And if you have federal dollars waiting for matching funds, likely we can get a line item in the Environmental Protection Fund.”

Tighe, was likely taking note of these promises. It’s what the NYLCV does: hold legislators accountable for promises made.

But she was also optimistic: “Things that legislators respond to is their own local community.”

Was she bothered by the political divide that can sink the best of legislative intentions?

“At the end of the day, clean air and clean water are not partisan issues,” she said.

As promised, here’s a list of the Alliance for the Upper Delaware River:

According to its chief cook and bottle washer, FUDR’s Skelding: “The Alliance includes both groups and individuals. It is not a formal coalition nor is it incorporated in any way. I would describe it as a diverse group of individuals and organizations that formed to advocate for an increased investment by NYS in the Upper Delaware River watershed.”

FUDR

Appalachian Mountain Club

NYLCV

Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed 

Border Water Outfitters

Code Blue Foundation

Cross Current Guide Service

NY Council of Non-Profit Organizations

Delaware County Chamber of Commerce

Hancock Liquor Store

Delaware Highlands Conservancy

Sam Decker, River Guide

National Parks Conservation Association

Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District

EnvironCon

Deerpark Alliance

Catskill Center for Conservation and Development

Sullivan County Soil and Water Conservation District

The Camptons

UDR Tailwaters Coalition (Deposit, Hancock, Colchester)

Trout Unlimited

Upper Delaware Council

Wild Trout Federation

The Nature Conservancy

East Branch Outfitters

Catskill Mountainkeeper

Sullivan County Planning Department

Trust for Public Land

Meg McGuire

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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