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Investment in the Upper Delaware River must be included as part of the federal infrastructure plan

By JEFF SKELDING
Posted 6/23/21

The American Jobs Plan has the potential to safeguard the reaches of our pristine Upper Delaware region by investing in workforce development and natural infrastructure. This historic proposal will …

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Investment in the Upper Delaware River must be included as part of the federal infrastructure plan

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The American Jobs Plan has the potential to safeguard the reaches of our pristine Upper Delaware region by investing in workforce development and natural infrastructure. This historic proposal will immediately pay off in the form of well-paying jobs, sustainable economic growth and a clean environment for decades to come. The plan would be an absolute game-changer for the Upper Delaware River, a crown jewel and home to a world-class wild trout fishery and unparalleled natural beauty.

Lawmakers are already rolling up their sleeves and working with the White House to ensure the plan includes the resources for the Delaware River Basin to tackle the restoration and resilience projects needed to secure the river for future generations.

One way that the administration is proposing to put folks back to work is through the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps (CCC). This type of program, modeled after and improving upon the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, would train Americans for skilled jobs and support the full range of restoration and resilience work our nation needs now more than ever. Programs like this are a way to provide good-paying jobs where workers are trained to restore and conserve the habitats, wetlands and public lands in New York. Fortunately, New York’s congressional delegation is hard at work prioritizing investing in the region.

The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) is also poised to benefit from the American Jobs Plan through significant proposed investments in ecological restoration and water infrastructure. The DRBRP, created in 2018 by Delaware Sen. Tom Carper and former New York Rep. Chris Gibson, funds flood mitigation, habitat creation and improvement, recreation, and water quality projects that are essential to the tourism economy that makes up a significant piece of our rural economy. The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed estimates that at least $55 million worth of shovel-ready projects are ready to go right now. This figure includes $12 million worth of projects in New York alone. Projects would include replacing failing infrastructure to mitigate the effects of flooding and reconnect aquatic habitat, restoring wildlife refuges, expanding environmental education programs and addressing flooding and sewer overflows with green infrastructure. Implementation of these projects over the next five years will lead to significant job creation and help our local workforce to recover losses sustained due to COVID-19. 

Since its inception, the DRBRP has supported 90 on-the-ground projects totaling $16.86 million in federal grants and leveraged an additional $34 million of private resources. This funding supports jobs and tangible environmental improvements—for example, in 2020, Friends of the Upper Delaware River received funding to implement five stream restoration projects: the replacement of three failing culverts, installation of habitat improvement structures, reconnecting floodplain to both improve a flood-prone communities climate resiliency and improve the aquatic habitat in the stream, and to continue our extensive public outreach to maintain a high level of involvement from the community.

Investing in the DRBRP as part of the infrastructure
package will create jobs where we need them most while expanding our outdoor economy and boosting climate resiliency.

Separate but parallel efforts are also underway. Through the advocacy efforts of the Friends of the Upper Delaware River and close partners, a new bipartisan Delaware River Basin Congressional Caucus has been created, co-chaired by Reps. Antonio Delgado and Brian Fitzpatrick. The two remaining New York congressional members representing the Delaware River watershed—Reps. Claudia Tenney and Sean Patrick Maloney—have joined the caucus, which we anticipate will prioritize federal funding and conservation needs throughout the region.

Additionally, Reps. Delgado and Jeff Van Drew (New Jersey) introduced the Clean Water for Rural America Act, bipartisan legislation that empowers small and rural municipalities to apply for low-interest wastewater infrastructure loans. The bill would increase funding for technical assistance grants within the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), providing critical support for upstate communities to access Clean Water Act programs.

Restoring the natural infrastructure of the Delaware River Basin through the American Jobs Plan and prioritizing the region through comprehensive policies will put thousands of New York residents back to work and build a better economy while working toward a cleaner, healthier and safer environment for all of us. We urge Congress to ensure the rural reaches of the watershed are not left behind.

Jeff Skelding is the executive director of Friends of the Upper Delaware River.

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