$1M quest(ion): Upper Delaware River supporters seek NYS funding

| December 6, 2021

NYS funding gathered by the Delaware River Dc
In August, supporters of NYS funding gathered by the Delaware River. 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

The New York piece of the watershed is relatively tiny compared to the other three states, but its importance is outsized since it houses the sources of the Delaware River: three New York City reservoirs — Pepacton, Cannonsville and the Neversink.

Though the New York piece of the watershed is really important to the rest of the watershed, it can pale in comparison in the state to the water Goliaths of the Long Island Sound, the Hudson River and the Great Lakes.

And here’s something: According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, it’s one of only three watersheds that doesn’t get institutional, on-going funding from the state.

The Friends of the Upper Delaware River, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed and Trout Unlimited are pushing for that sort of reliable funding — as is the rest of the 30-member Alliance for the Upper Delaware River. Here’s more from Alliance members:

Here’s the support letter from the Upper Delaware Council for more background.

And this from Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters:

“New York’s Upper Delaware River tailwaters provide incredible ecological and economic value to the region, yet there is typically little attention or investment to support this region,” she wrote in an email.

“We need to act now to ensure future threats to this ecosystem are mitigated and smart investments protect the tailwaters, and we are proud that more than 1,600 (1,607) have signed our petition calling for State funding to support the Delaware River region.”

Making things just a tad more difficult, New York State’s legislature and its governor are Democrats and a good piece of the tiny piece of New York State that is in the watershed leans Republican.

Not everyone is tarred by the inability to see beyond partisan lines. Both Republican State Senator Mike Martucci (Sullivan and Orange counties) and Democratic State Rep. Aileen Gunther (most of Sullivan County as well as Middletown in Orange) expressed support for more state dollars to come to Delaware River watershed communities.

They both spoke at a gathering on the New York shore of the Delaware in August offering to be “torchbearers” to bring some of those scarce dollars to local communities.

The best vehicle for that funding, say supporters, is the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. Supporters are hoping that this bucket of funding will be increased in the soon-to-be-completed governor’s budget from $300M to $500M.

“If that happened,” said Jeff Skelding, executive director of the Friends of the Delaware River, “it would be good for us.” Of course, a bigger pot of money could go farther.

He’s especially interested in getting that state funding since he and local municipalities are undertaking valuable work on improving streams to benefit river ecosystems and infrastructure to handle floods, which is an increasing threat to local communities in this time of climate change.

Since the launch in 2018 of the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund, all sorts of restoration projects have been accomplished in the watershed, but there’s a wrinkle. To get that funding from the federal government, each project must have a local match. And that’s where the Environmental Protection Fund could step in, providing matching state dollars for projects urgently needed by New York watershed communities.

“I would bet a million dollars that this will happen,” Gunther said back in August, to smiles from the audience, citing the figure that the groups are looking for.

But before the legislators can get to work, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget has to include their plea.

“If we get in the governor’s budget,” said Skelding, “We’re 90% of the way there.”

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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