People who are fortunate enough to live in the Upper Delaware River region are blessed with a natural resource that is relatively clean despite the looming and enormous pressures that the crowded East Coast of the United States can often bring to bear. This is a testament to the resource managers, landowners, local governments and citizens who recognize the ecological and economic value of healthy watersheds. Decades of public education about the value of clean water is paying off. While contentious issues and differing opinions will likely always hover over future management decisions about the river, there is an emerging awareness: no matter what your political persuasion, protecting this magnificent natural resource is a lifeline to economic prosperity for the region.
Accordingly, the future of our river and its watershed requires a new economic message that resonates with a broader audience. And we need to do more than just say it, we need to operationalize it. We also need to find a way to unify ourselves around the most important issues and to paddle all in the same direction to secure more resources—especially federal funding—for the Upper Delaware River watershed. Budgets at every level are so dramatically strained that only the smartest, most well organized and politically savvy campaigns will be able to succeed in tapping into these increasingly scarce resources. That will require maturity and creativity to set aside differences, to the extent we are able, and identify common areas of agreement that we can all support and mobilize around. These days, it’s the only approach that can work, and I’ve seen it happen in places like the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. It can work in the Delaware River watershed, too.
So along those lines, here are four important goals for the future management and protection of the Upper Delaware River watershed that I’m hopeful we can all get behind to help people and communities in our region thrive:
1) Bundle together all of the existing plans that credibly address river restoration and protection, fill in the gaps where necessary and create a single comprehensive Upper Delaware River Conservation Plan with broad stakeholder consensus, bi-partisan political support and a unified street-smart campaign/game plan focused on securing more funding for our region;
2) Recognize and quantify the economic value a clean and healthy river brings to people and communities and implement aggressive programs at all levels that lead with the economic message in promoting river protection and restoration;
3) Protect and improve the unique cold water fishery of the Upper Delaware River, which serves as an invaluable economic driver for the region; and
4) Begin to address the dichotomous thinking around the New York City watershed versus the rest of the river, and recognize it is one watershed that we are all responsible for and deserving of equal resources throughout.
[Jeff Skelding is executive director of Friends of the Upper Delaware River, a non-profit river protection organization based in Hancock, NY, dedicated to protecting and restoring the Upper Delaware River watershed.]