Delaware is no stranger to water quality and flooding issues; the need for sustainable clean water is growing. After all, 90 percent of Delaware’s waterways are considered impaired and communities across the state, many of which are underserved, face chronic flooding. As the need for clean water funding grows, state and local budgets decrease, leaving a large gap between funding and statewide needs. Delaware Nature Society (DNS) has studied and advocated for Delaware’s water quality for decades and concluded that it would take a grassroots advocacy and education effort to push for much needed funding. So, in 2015 DNS brought together a core group of conservation organizations and pitched the idea of building a statewide outreach and education campaign to grow a strong, unified voice for clean water funding.
With a resounding “yes!” Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and Delaware Center for the Inland Bays joined us to hit the ground running to build Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice campaign. Ambitious and excited, we hosted our first Clean Water Rally that year. A group of around 50 people joined us in Dover to fight for clean water funding and to introduce our mission to decision makers.
Fast forward four years to our recent 5th Annual Clean Water Rally. We stood alongside over 150 blue-clad Water Warriors (our ever-growing group of clean water advocates), Clean Water Alliance members (our diverse clean water stakeholder coalition), legislators, community activists, and tv cameras as we rallied for House Bill 200, the Clean Water for Delaware Act. The legislation, which would dedicate funding for clean water and flood resiliency projects, features sponsorship by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride.
After the rally, our clean water community convened on the House Natural Resources Committee, where the bill was heard. Over 30 of our Water Warriors bravely stood up and testified in support of the bill. The rest of our advocates cheered from the House Chamber and gallery above as faith leaders, grandparents, conservationists and scientists discussed their support for clean water funding. Thanks in part to our ever-growing support, the bill passed out of committee unanimously.
Yet, even with how far we’ve come, we have a long way to go. Governor John Carney and his Administration expressed opposition to this bill, which has stalled its movement. Despite his opposition, it is widely known that additional funding for clean water projects is necessary for water quality and flood reduction in Delaware. Delaware’s draft Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) was released in April 2019. This plan detailed ways in which Delaware will reduce nutrient and sediment pollution for waterways that drain into the Chesapeake Bay. For each Best Management Practice (BMP) in the plan, challenges to implementing those practices are listed, most of which cite lack of funding or uncertain funding as a main challenge. Without sustainable funding, Delaware will not be able to meet the goals set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for Chesapeake Bay health as acknowledged by the state, county, and local stakeholders who took part in drafting the draft WIP.
Though we were met with a setback to our goal of sustainable clean water funding, we will not stop here. With the relentless activism and dedication of the Clean Water Alliance and Water Warriors, we will continue to push for clean water funding. We will continue to advocate. We will continue to hold decision makers accountable and ask them to support the proposed clean water funding mechanism. In her recent Op-Ed, one of the campaign founders Brenna Goggin called upon legislative leaders to stand up for every single person in Delaware and commit to improving our environment, economy, and health for generations to come, either by supporting HB 200 or by proposing another sustainable clean water funding option.
The time for clean water funding is now. We have come so far in five years and we look forward to celebrating the culmination of our hard work with the creation of a clean water solution.
Laura Miller, Delaware Nature Society