A sign for the Delaware River Basin Commission outside of its brick building headquarters.
The Delaware River Basin Commission office in Trenton, N.J.

For the first time in a dozen years, the feds will pay their fair share of DRBC funding
The federal government has allocated $715,000 to the commission but only for this year.

| February 9, 2023

There’s good news about funding for the Delaware River Basin Commission.

The shortfall between what the states and the federal government owe the very body that the four states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) and the federal government set up continues, but it seems to be narrowing, largely because the federal government is finally paying what it owes: $715,000 — or what amounts to a rounding error in a federal budget of $1.7 trillion.

If all of the parties paid up (as they promised to in 1988), the total would be $3,574,000. Here’s a bit of perspective: Adjusted for inflation, that total today would be $9,168,128.

For 2022, the DRBC received $1,916,500, a shortfall of $1.6 million. For 2021, it received $1,716,500, a shortfall of $1.85 million.

As you can see, the gap between what has been promised and what has been paid is narrowing.

The DRBC’s graph shows a projection for 2023 of $3,307,500, but — and this is a pretty big but — it assumes that Pennsylvania will pay its full fair share of $893,000, which is pretty optimistic given that it hasn’t picked up its full fair share since 2015. In the past five years, it has only contributed $217,000 per year. True to form, the PA budget for FY23 passed this summer did cut down DRBC funding to 217K once again.

It needs to be said that the full fair share is often included in the Pennsylvania governor’s proposed allocation but the state Legislature whacks it down, flexing its GOP muscle against the Democratic governor.

When you look at who’s paying their full fair share, Delaware historically has been the most consistent, with yearly payments of $447,000.

The worst by far, has been the federal government, which except for a fluke in 2009-10, has not paid one penny since 1998.

Until this year.

U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) submitted a funding request for the DRBC as one of her community projects, what used to be called earmarks, and it came through in the federal omnibus budget.

Her office is in Ewing, N.J., making her a neighbor of the DRBC’s headquarters in West Trenton, N.J.

Elizabeth Brown, the DRBC’s director of external affairs and communications, explained that though the DRBC is very grateful for the funding, it is only a one-year allocation and that the DRBC isn’t in “just one person’s district, we’re in multiple districts.”

She also noted that the signatory funding — the money owed by the signers of the DRBC compact — is just a part of the $5 million-plus DRBC budget, a large part of which is in grants and special projects. This signatory funding is key for the day-to-day running of the DRBC.

The reality is that the funding mechanism in place to funnel federal dollars to the DRBC has long been broken as Delaware Currents documented in 2019, again in 2020, and again in 2021. (See a pattern here?)

In addition to the confusion about all of these numbers, there’s another layer of confusion.

The federal government has set up the path to disburse its funding through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which, you might recall, is the federal government’s representative on the DRBC. (Each governor is its state’s representative though they rarely attend meetings and send a designee instead.)

Unfortunately, the Army Corps builds it budget based on projects, like the recent dredging it was doing in the Delaware. But the DRBC isn’t a project, it’s an ongoing entity, so it doesn’t really “fit” in the budget of the Army Corps.

But in MORE good news, a coalition of U.S. senators and representatives have tackled that thorny question.

The elected officials are from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia and are listed below. It’s not just a DRBC problem.

They wrote to the director of the Office of Management and Budget to “urge funding for the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 President’s Budget request.

“These River Basin Commission (RBCs) — collectively known as the Mid-Atlantic River Basin Commissions — serve national interests benefitting more than 25 million Americans in seven states and the District of Columbia. As members representing regions served by the Mid-Atlantic RBCs, we know firsthand how they advance environmental stewardship, improve quality of life, and provide economic benefits to communities. Congressionally-approved compacts set forth obligations for support and funding from the individual compact states and the federal government.”

They also point out that the federal government has “routinely failed to meet its funding obligations.”

They ask that the president’s budget include $715,000 for the Delaware River Basin Commission, $493,000 for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, and $650,000 for the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.

The signatories to the letter include: Delaware Senators Thomas R. Carper and Christopher A. Coons; the Delaware Representative (At Large), Lisa Blunt Rochester; New Jersey senators, Cory A. Booker and Robert Menendez; the New Jersey representatives from the Delaware River Basin, Donald Norcross, Jefferson Van Drew, Andy Kim, Christopher H. Smith, Josh Gottheimer, Thomas H. Kean Jr., Mikie Sherrill and Bonnie Watson Coleman.

From Pennsylvania, Senators Robert P. Casey Jr. and John Fetterman; and Representatives from the Delaware River Basin: Brian Fitzpatrick, Brendan F. Boyle, Dwight Evans, Madeleine Dean, Mary Gay Scanlon, Chrissy Houlahan and Susan Wild.

Other signatories included: Maryland Senators Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen; Maryland Representatives Jamie Raskin, John P. Sarbanes and David J. Trone; and Virginia Representatives Donald S. Beyer Jr. and Jennifer Wexton.

None of the New York U.S. senators or representatives signed. Pennsylvania representatives from the Delaware River Basin who did not sign include: Matt Cartwright, Daniel Meuser and Lloyd Smucker.

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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