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The Delaware River: it’s everyone’s water

April 16, 2014

We who live in the Upper Delaware River Valley are lucky. We get to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us as a part of our everyday lives. The rivers and streams, trails and open spaces—from greenway corridors and conservation areas to acres of rolling farmland that we sometimes take for granted—also draw economic value from tourism dollars that directly or indirectly support many local businesses and benefit our rural communities. Historically, the river helped upstream communities engage in commerce downstream all the way to Philadelphia (and later to New York City via the D&H Canal), and though the industry has changed, it remains true today that the river we value so much is an economic engine.

Consider for a moment the Delaware River Basin (DRB) as a whole; the market value of economic activities attributed to river- and watershed-based assets are calculated to be worth $25 billion annually, according to a 2011 study (Socioeconomic Value of the Delaware River Basin in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, prepared by Gerald J. Kauffman, October 11, 2011). If one counts the natural capital value of ecosystem goods and services, for example forestland that stores and sequesters carbon and freshwater wetlands that filter clean drinkable water, etc. you can add another $21 billion per year (based on net present value, discounted over 100 years). The DRB’s water supplies, natural resources and ecosystems account for 600,000 direct and indirect jobs (2009 figures) with $10 billion in annual wages.

For some time, there have been those in the Upper Delaware River Valley who have wished that our downstream neighbors, who are beneficiaries of the river’s natural assets (15 million people drink its water), would recognize its indispensible worth to them and invest in our upriver rural local economies. It is good news, then, that today our downriver neighbors are increasingly aware that the clean water they currently enjoy depends on how our upriver communities develop in the future. Apart from our neighbors, it is worth emphasizing that environmentally appropriate development will benefit our local communities, too.