ENVIRONMENT

$5M in federal funding will help restore Delaware River Basin

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

It’s Jersey’s other coastline: the Delaware River. It runs along New Jersey’s entire western border, draining a watershed that touches five states. Some areas remain pristine. Others need a little work, like the so-called Muddy Musconetcong in Warren County. Sections of the river got a total makeover a few years ago. The result?

“I’ve seen wood turtles. I’ve seen mink. I’ve seen river otter,” said John Parke, stewardship project director at the New Jersey Audubon Wattles Stewardship Center.

Officers with the center pointed out where a coalition of environmentalists reshaped the river, adding curves and boulders to help improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

“So what happens is the water comes around it, scours out areas, creates a deep spot. But it also keeps that water moving, keeps the ripples going which increases the oxygen,” Parke said. “Now we have areas all along here, for about a mile, that have these deeper pools, creating that refuge for the trout.”

It also provides opportunities for fishing and recreation. Now projects like this one will get a boost — $5 million in federal funding for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program. There’s a lot to do.

“We are here today to celebrate. For the first time in history, the Delaware River has dedicated funding for restoration projects throughout the watershed,” said Sandra Meola, director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “The river is threatened by overdevelopment, habitat loss, polluted runoff, flooding and stream erosion.”

“We’ll see the $5 million applied throughout the Delaware River Basin — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The whole space has the opportunity to take this funding and put it to work for water quality, for wildlife and for outdoor recreation,” said John Cecil, vice president for stewardship with the Wattles Stewardship Center.

The Delaware River supplies drinking water for more than 15 million people and it contributes $25 billion worth of economic activity to the region. Working to keep the water clean means convincing farmers to give up buffer zones, marked by pink flags, to keep fertilizer out of nearby streams. It means planting hillsides with acres of special, deep-rooted grasses to help prevent erosion and filter rainwater.

“I’m just about six feet. Add another one of me. That’s how much that root system is going down. That is so important in conservation, especially with water quality,” said Parke.

The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed is a network of 131 organizations that work to keep projects like these on track. Everybody benefits.

“What you do here goes far beyond the property boundaries. That buffer here is slowing up that sediments, filtering out pollutants. Not just for this spot — it’s for everybody in the whole community,” said Parke.

Five million dollars may not seem like a lot of money, but it was $100,000 that helped the Musconetcong run fast and clear. Imagine what that $5 million will buy.