Making Strides Toward Greater Protection for Delaware River

Canoeing on the Delaware RiverAs anyone who follows the trials and tribulations impacting our nation’s rivers knows, you have to celebrate the small victories. 

Today we are celebrating the Delaware River because we are one step closer to increasing vital protections for this watershed that provides millions of people with clean drinking water, exciting opportunities to explore nature with their families, and many other important uses. 

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board voted (13-5) to allow the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to further study an upgrade petition for the Delaware River that was submitted by 24 organizations and 150 watershed citizens on December 9, 2011 to upgrade the Delaware River and tributary streams to Exceptional Value.

American Rivers, one of the original petitioning organizations, was present at the meeting to speak in support of moving the petition forward.  We mentioned our listing of the Upper Delaware River as America’s Most Endangered River® of 2010.  We noted the importance of an Exceptional Value designation to ensure clean water for citizens of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware.  Currently, most of the petitioned area is designated as High Quality, which indicates a lower level of protection than Exceptional Value.

The petition covers a remarkably large geographic area.  Therefore, the DEP has indicated that they intend to address the petition in subsets of smaller watersheds over the next few years.  Moving forward, the DEP will decide whether to upgrade current designations to the more protective Exceptional Value status.

Allowing the DEP to study this upgrade is a critical step to elevating river protections through the Outstanding National Resource Water (ONRW) process.  We hope that this will limit degradation of the waters in the Delaware River from natural gas development and other impacts within the watershed. 

Currently, the Delaware River Basin Commission continues to evaluate their draft regulations pertaining to natural gas development.  No decision has yet been made on the approval of those regulations.  In the meantime, American Rivers will continue to work with local and regional groups, such as the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, to ensure protection of this important river system.