Petition Seeks Immediate DRBC Action to Upgrade the Delaware River To Protect Fish & Aquatic Life

Media Contacts

Environment New Jersey

A coalition of organizations submitted a petition today to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to upgrade the regulatory status and protections for the Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington reach of the Delaware River. The initiative seeks to ensure that water quality standards governing the river provide full Clean Water Act protections and adequate dissolved oxygen for the survival of fish and other aquatic life.

According to the petition, both independent studies and DRBC’s own reviews confirm that fish already use the identified river reach every year for spawning and nursery habitats, and that upgraded protections are therefore warranted. The inaction by the DRBC over the last decade, and the continued postponement of their own internal deadlines, pushes the critically-endangered Delaware River population of Atlantic sturgeon closer to extinction. Emerging economic research highlighted in the petition also describes the enormous social and economic benefits derived from investing in clean water and our riverside communities. This action is needed to ensure that endangered Atlantic sturgeon, striped bass, American shad, and all other aquatic life dependent on clean water receive the proper level of protection from pollution now and into the future.

“The Delaware River and the endangered Atlantic sturgeon continue to suffer every year because of DRBC’s failure to act,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “We have known for over a decade that immediate action is needed, and that the protections we seek are easily within our reach. As spring emerges and as striped bass, American shad, and Atlantic sturgeon begin returning to this great river for their annual spawning runs, these and other fish tragically face another uncertain year with no protections in place for these great migrations that continued for millennia, and which are threatened by bureaucratic cowardice.”

“The Clean Water Act is an incredibly powerful regulatory tool and the levels of dissolved oxygen in the lower Delaware River are a clear blinking red light that the DRBC is not using all of its regulatory power to protect the Delaware and the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon. The petition clearly outlines the regulatory delay by DRBC and the precarious state of the Delaware’s fish ecosystem demands immediate action. In an uncertain climate-influenced future, we need to take more actions to promote the basic health of the Delaware River, protect its ecosystem — and ourselves,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey.

“Adopting these improved water quality standards is crucial for protecting both aquatic life and the health of the many people who rely on this stretch of the river for recreation. These protections are long overdue and it is time for the Delaware River Basin Commission to act,” said Joseph Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel for Clean Air Council.

“Protecting the health of the Delaware River, from establishing stringent standards for dissolved oxygen levels to recognizing the primary contact recreational use of the river, is critical to improving the health and well-being of the surrounding communities,” said PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo. “The DRBC cannot kick this can down the road any longer. The Commission must step up and protect the Delaware as it is legally required to do.”

“In Camden after decades of having turned our backs to our City’s greatest natural resource we have awakened to their life giving values. Not surprising nature in all its forms first began to notice changes, Bald Eagles returned, with Ospreys and Herons. The Eastern Pondmussel was found to have returned, along with Sturgeon and Shad and others. As we paddle the tidal Cooper River snapping turtles, wild turkeys and deer are regular shore line sightings. We’ve torn down a waterfront State Prison and reclaimed the land from an old chemical company to build waterfront parks that bring you to the water’s edge. Then we went even further investing millions to reclaim an old abandoned landfill and not only built a park on the water’s edge, we built the infrastructure to bring you onto and into the water. With more plans to invest in kayak ramps and docks in Gateway Park and the Back Channel of the Delaware behind Petty’s Island for our urban communities to have the opportunities our upstream friends may take for granted. I have to ask the question, how do we not take the necessary action to commit to ensuring safe and healthy rivers for our urban communities?” said Jim Cummings, Director of Experiential Learning at Urban Promise and Founder of UrbanTrekkers and Urban BoatWorks.

“The health of the Delaware River is intertwined with that of its local economies” said Richard Lawton, Executive Director of the NJ Sustainable Business Council. “Recreation and tourism combined contribute $1.2 billion annually, with recreational fishing alone accounting for about half ($575 million) annually. The DRBC’s continued inaction represents an opportunity cost to the economies of Philadelphia, Camden and Wilmington that they can remedy by upgrading the regulatory status and protections for this important reach of the Delaware River. Taking action now will benefit the many lives and livelihoods that are nourished and supported by the river.”

“The Delaware River Yachtsmen’s League (DRYL) has been on the Delaware River since 1914. We are a large group of recreational boaters and anglers from 25 independent boating clubs spanning the Delaware River from just below Trenton down to below the Philadelphia Airport. All of our clubs and organizations are within the area being discussed. We (The DRYL) call upon the DRBC to utilize the Clean Water Act for the entire river and not just certain parts / areas of the river. By doing so we believe the entire river’s ecosystem will greatly improve. It also means our grandchildren’s grandchildren will reap the benefits of your actions that you take today – and more importantly they will be able to enjoy all this waterway has to offer,” said Paul Jusino, President, Delaware River Yachtman’s League.

“As community groups and volunteer tree tenders work at the grass roots, using community investments to plant more trees and shady riparian buffers especially in flood-prone highly urbanized regions like the Darby Creek watershed that flows into the Delaware River where oxygen levels have improved, it is essential that the water quality standards of the Delaware River be updated now to match the on the ground needed restoration work that has been underway for decades. This important dissolved oxygen upgrade will also help push for

other increased restoration needed regionally that will benefit beautiful fish and community health as a whole,” said Bonnie Hallam and Dolores Lombardi, Co-Chairs, Tree Tenders of Upper Darby.

“The Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter is strongly in favor of any measures that will help to improve and enhance the fisheries in the Delaware River and its tributaries,” said Matt MacConnell, Chair of the Lehigh Valley Group Sierra Club. “Raising dissolved oxygen levels as proposed in this petition will go a long way in helping with this goal.”