Environmental scientists, educators and activists are teaming up this week to learn new scientific innovations and discuss ways to clean Delaware’s watershed.
The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed kicked off its third annual Delaware River Watershed Forum at the University of Delaware in Newark Monday.
“One of the reasons we were really excited to have event in Delaware is because it is located at the downstream end of the watershed. What happens upstream does have an impact down here,” said Kim Beidler, director of the organization that works to protect and restore the river, its tributaries and surrounding lands.
“We can have some discussions about what the future of this watershed should be and how we can work together to achieve that future.”
More than 250 people were expected to attend the two-day forum to learn about initiatives to protect and restore water resources, improve fish and wildlife habitat, enhance recreational access, nurture resilient landscapes and promote sustainable economic development.
There are several issues facing the watershed—there are contaminants left over from industrial activity before regulations were put in place, and looming habitat and forestation loss.
About 16 million people in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York rely on the watershed for drinking water, yet environmentalists like Beidler say it does not get the federal funding it needs.
Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware, and U.S. Congressman John Carney, D-Delaware, were two of several keynote speakers on Monday.
“The entire region is dependent on the Delaware river basin, and I think the water doesn’t stop at the border and the more we can foster appropriate collaborations and partnerships on anything from water quality to habitat and the like the better of we’re going to be,” Markell said.
During his speech he urged attendants to create a plan for the environment and to encourage government to spend money on innovations that will clean up the watershed.
“I do think there’s a lot we can learn from each other and there’s a lot we can do together,” Markell said.
Carney asked attendants for their help to pass the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act, a bill he’s sponsoring with 17 other legislators to create a federal program to help organizations restore and protect the resources in the Delaware river basin. It was formerly introduced by former Governor and Congressman Mike Castle.
“We’re more optimistic than we’ve ever been to get something done,” Carney said.
Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control also participated in the forum, and discussed several innovations in place to protect the environment. The agency has seen positive results in the use of activated carbon to sequester toxins, and technology that determines how much sediment is in the Brandywine River.
“Our agency is marching ahead of what we can do as far as mitigation, but also as important is, ‘How do we adapt? How do we think of Delaware landscape in the future? Where will our new wetlands be?’ said DNREC Secretary David Small. “We need them to continue to provide the functions they do.”
Beidler said she hopes her organization will continue to build upon the forum so progress continues in the future.
“We just need to get that momentum going and keeping it going and that means looking at what we’ve taken in here and finding a path forward and using it in a way so we can come back next year and say, ‘We’ve done this,’” she said.