Environmental bond act could benefit Delaware watershed in New York
The $4.2B proposal, which would fund water quality and related improvements, is on the Nov. 8 ballot
| November 1, 2022
Update: New York State voters approved the referendum on Election Day, 67 to 33 percent, according to unofficial tallies.
The Upper Delaware River watershed in New York could stand to benefit from a statewide ballot before voters on Election Day that would dedicate billions of dollars for water quality improvements, flood risk mitigation and infrastructure upgrades, among a host of environmental improvements.
At $4.2 billion, the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022 is the largest environmental bond act in the state’s history.
Among the projects it would fund:
- $1.5 billion for climate change mitigation
- $1.1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction
- $650 million for water quality and resilient infrastructure
- $650 million for open space conservation and recreation
Supporters of the plan, such as Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, have highlighted the plan’s provisions to replace lead pipes, which would reduce consumers’ harmful exposure to lead in drinking water; improving buffers between farms and streams; and replacing polluting septic systems.
How precisely the money would be divvied up is not spelled out in the bond act, which voters will consider on Election Day, Nov. 8.
The monies would be awarded based on a competitive grant process, Tighe said during a recent presentation at the “Water, Water Everywhere” conference sponsored by Friends of the Upper Delaware River.
Supporters tout the bond act’s economic benefits as well, citing a consultant’s analysis that suggested it would induce 84,000 jobs and $8.7 billion in total project spending.
Jessica Ottney Mahar, The Nature Conservancy’s New York policy and strategy director, said provisions in the act, such as funding to reduce runoff pollution, manage nutrient inflow and improve riparian buffers would “really protect the health of the Delaware River and its tributaries.”
The environmental bond act is the first of its kind since 1996, when voters approved a $1.75 billion proposal, or $3.3 billion, adjusted for inflation. That bond act, which passed with 56 percent, dedicated money for clean water, air quality improvements, remediation of brownfields and closures of municipal garbage dumps.
“When people see the ballot language, they are going to be excited,” Ottney Mahar said of the latest proposal. “We’re kind of a good news story on the ballot.”
With less than a week to go before Election Day, the prospects of passage look promising. A Siena College Research Institute poll conducted in October found that respondents said they supported the bond proposal, 54 percent to 26 percent.
Ottney Mahar said the ballot proposition comes at an opportune time because the recently enacted federal infrastructure and inflation-reduction bills seek state or local matching funds for projects, which the bond act can provide. “The timing of this could not be better,” she said.
Competitive applications will go through various state agencies. No particular projects are spelled out in the bond act per se. Instead, the act offers broad categories of work that would be eligible for funding, such as open space preservation or stormwater improvements.
“I can’t say to you that the Delaware River will get ‘x’ millions of dollars,” Ottney Mahar said. “It will be on equal footing with other watersheds.”
The Delaware can benefit in a number of ways from the bond proposal as it includes $200 million for wastewater and infrastructure upgrades and repairs and $250 million for municipal stormwater projects.
At least 35 to 40 percent of the total funding is intended to advance environmental justice by investing funding in disadvantaged communities. “This will help ensure that all New Yorkers have clear air to breathe and clean water to drink,” according to Tighe’s presentation.
Among other goals, the funding aims to upgrade sewers, fix roads, support farms and protect wildlife habitats.
Infrastructure might not be sexy or high profile, but it plays a vital role in protecting the watershed. Take culverts, for example.
Molly Oliver, policy director at Friends of the Upper Delaware River, said her group has over the last few years supported Trout Unlimited’s efforts to assess culverts throughout the Upper Delaware River watershed.
“We have a prioritized list of culverts which need to be replaced because they are undersized, which causes issues with road and infrastructure during flood events and inhibits aquatic passage, meaning fish and other aquatic species cannot access the cold headwaters sections of the streams which are often the best spawning habitat,” Oliver said.
“If addressed prior to a significant flood event, municipalities can save potentially millions of dollars in damages from flooding and can potentially avoid road closures, which are a significant disruption to residents and businesses and can be a public safety issue if access to fire and rescue are blocked or if a significant detour is necessary. This is important work and there are many, many culverts that are long overdue for replacement.”