Green Infrastructure in Delaware

If you’re from Delaware, it’s likely that you, or someone you know, experiences flooding, as surveys have shown that 48% of Delawareans experience flooding at least once a year. This greatly impacts Delaware’s communities, as was seen when the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused record flooding that lifted cars, covered bridges, and caused residents of Wilmington to evacuate their homes. As our climate changes, we are likely to see higher sea levels and more frequent and intense storms and it may feel like flooding is unavoidable. However, with good planning, it is possible to use green infrastructure to mitigate this issue. 

Green infrastructure comes in many forms and serves many purposes in our communities. In most contexts, green infrastructure refers to water management practices that help mimic parts of the water cycle that are disrupted in urban and suburban areas. It focuses on absorbing water where it lands, rather than using gray infrastructure – gutters, pipes, concrete, etc. – to move water away from where it lands to local waterways. 

The Clean Water for Delaware Act, HB 200, emphasizes the importance of prioritizing projects that use green infrastructure. Several communities throughout the state have already begun working on projects that use green infrastructure to help improve water management. To help get a better idea of the different types of green infrastructure in general and throughout the state, we are going to walk through some projects below. 

South Wilmington Wetland Park 

Wilmington’s Southbridge neighborhood has long struggled with flooding that has been increasing in intensity over the years. In this neighborhood, because of Combined Sewer Overflows, stormwater and sewage were two areas that need to be addressed simultaneously. Community advocates and local planners decided that in order to address the concerns, they could design a wetland park to mimic the natural benefits of our wetlands in Delaware. After years of advocacy, construction began in 2019. Wetlands are incredibly productive and important ecosystems that filter water, help prevent erosion and flooding, provide habitat for native plants and animals, absorb stormwater, and create spaces for recreation and leisure. The Southbridge Wilmington Wetland Park addresses stormwater flooding by channeling stormwater from the neighborhood directly into the newly restored wetlands where it then has a chance to filter and absorb into the ground like the natural wetlands we have throughout the state. Wetland parks are incredible examples of green infrastructure that help keep stormwater out of neighborhoods and back into nature.  

Permeable Pavement in Coastal Delaware 

Coastal flooding is a major concern in southern Delaware and many have taken initiative to combat it with permeable pavement. Regular pavement blocks the absorption of water into the soil below it which then contributes to flooding. Permeable pavement allows water to soak through and then relies on one of two pathways for stormwater: Underground reservoirs or absorption into soil and the water table below. Both pathways help reconnect stormwater with the natural water cycle and can help make communities more resilient against sea level rise and more frequent flooding.  

Rain Gardens 

Rain gardens are a common form of green infrastructure. They are integrated into landscaping and address stormwater management by reducing runoff and absorbing stormwater. These gardens often serve as the first line of defense against flooding and capture rainwater as it falls which slows its path to flooding into roads and streams. They also help filter the runoff as it travels towards the streams which in turn helps clean the water that we eventually drink. In addition to addressing runoff, rain gardens support local pollinators and native species while adding color and beauty to the communities they are built in.  

Green Roofs 

Like rain gardens, green roofs are also a fairly common form of green infrastructure. Also referred to as ‘rooftop gardens,’ green roofs are a thin vegetative layer grown on rooftops. They have numerous benefits, including natural insulation to reduce the need for heating and cooling, and they help absorb stormwater reducing the flow of rainwater or snowmelt into gutters and drains. For some buildings, it even provides a space for leisure and recreation in urban areas where there is limited access to green spaces. 

Urban Tree Canopy 

Sometimes the best way to address environmental issues is to replace what was lost. Investing in urban tree canopy cover is an increasingly popular way to address many environmental concerns including heat islands, air pollution, and soil erosion. Trees’ natural processes and root systems absorb and store stormwater, create shade, provide habitat, and help to filter air and capture carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.  

Conclusion 

Delaware’s gray infrastructure is aging and the systems we currently rely on, such as gutters, pipes, and tunnels, have a limited capacity. There is no surprise that when addressing climate change, one of the biggest challenges we face is how to manage water for drinking, recreation, and healthy ecosystems. It is critical that community advocates continue to push for investment in green infrastructure, such as the examples above, to increase Delaware’s resiliency to climate change and stormwater flooding. If you are interested in learning more about different types of green infrastructure, visit this page by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Heat Waves and the Urban Heat Island Effect

As our climate changes and temperatures continue to rise, it is increasingly important that we talk about heat, both in terms of heat waves and heat islands. Most people are familiar with heat waves in some capacity and in pop culture we see them depicted playfully with melting popsicles and children playing near open fire hydrants. Rarely, however, do we see the dark side of these heat events.  According to the EPA, “more than 100,000 Americans have died from heat effects since 1979.” While these severe temperature events are unhealthy for all populations, many groups and communities are especially vulnerable. This long list includes elderly people over 65 (with risks increasing over 85 years of age) as well as houseless people and low-income communities who lack access to adequate air conditioning and cooling.  

Urban Heat Islands 

While heat waves may be natural events, urban heat islands are largely the result of our built environment. Many urban spaces feature large expanses of asphalt, concrete, and other black top surfaces. As these dark surfaces heat up, they absorb and trap heat and raise the surface temperature around them. This rise in surface temperature is what then leads to heat islands because, even if the air temperature that we base our forecast on says one thing, the surface temperatures are what we feel in our day to day lives and are influenced by the built environment around us. More specifically, the concept of urban heat islands refers to the heat difference between urban and suburban areas and the rural areas that surround them. This temperature difference can be anything from 1°F to as high as 22°F when comparing the two environments. Many people have experienced the heat island effect on a smaller scale without knowing it. Something as simple as walking on grass barefoot versus walking on asphalt barefoot during the summer makes this effect painfully clear. 

Urban Cool Islands 

In the same way that black top and other dark surfaces raise surface temperatures and cause the heat island effect, green-blue spaces like vegetation and water can lower surface temperatures and create urban cool islands (UCIs). Though they are not studied as much as urban heat islands, urban cool islands may be the key to the projected increase in frequency and intensity of heat waves due to climate change. Green- blue spaces refer to vegetation like trees, shrubs, and grass, and bodies of water like pools, oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams. As plants in green spaces absorb carbon dioxide, they produce oxygen and, through transpiration, cool the air around them as the water inside turns to vapor and evaporates. In addition to the cooling effect of evaporation, trees provide shade for sidewalks and roads which in turn cools down the surfaces that would otherwise contribute to the heat island effect. Blue spaces, like lakes and rivers, cool the air around them, not just through evaporation, but through the breezes caused by the temperature difference between the land and water. 

Urban Heat Islands and Environmental Justice

From an environmental justice point of view, heat islands are an issue that demands urgent action and education. The list on the right shows a larger list of vulnerable communities, many of which already experience several environmental burdens in regards to air quality, clean water access, food security, and poverty. These factors can make it more difficult to deal with, and recover from, heat waves and the heat island effect. 

The reason why a disproportionate number of minority communities live in urban heat islands can be traced all the way back to redlining. From the 1930s to the late 1960s, Black and other people of color were denied housing loans in neighborhoods. This racist housing practice continues to hurt minorities today because the neighborhoods that they were pushed into have been historically underinvested in. NPR cites a study that shows that “In a study of 108 urban areas nationwide, the formerly redlined neighborhoods of nearly every city studied were hotter than the non-redlined neighborhoods, some by nearly 13 degrees.”. This is the legacy of redlining and is yet another reason why we need to act now and work to protect our most vulnerable communities.  

What Can We Do? 

One answer to this growing problem is to invest in green infrastructure and working with these communities to make sure that their needs are met on a daily basis and not just in the aftermath of a disaster. Green infrastructure can take many forms, and includes everything from planting trees alongside streets and within parks, green roofs that double as community gardens, and even the planting of native plants in open spaces. Other forms of infrastructure that can help support vulnerable communities in dealing with heat islands and heat waves are accessible cooling stations, improved public transportation, access to clean water for both recreation and drinking, and improving access to adequate and cost-effective air conditioning.  

As we begin to plan Delaware’s response to climate change, initiatives and programs targeted at mitigating the harm done by heat islands and heat waves must be included in our solutions. It is crucial that we are including the voices of our most vulnerable as we search for these solutions and that we begin to get to the bottom of the social inequities that then lead to community experiences of environmental injustice.  

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Celebrating Hispanic & Latinx Environmental Advocates

Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month has been recognized by the US Government since 1988 to recognize and appreciate their various cultures, achievements, and on-going contributions to our country.   

 Rather than spanning a month from beginning from end, Latinx Hispanic Heritage Month covers a range of Latin Independence Day celebrations. The first day of the month is September 15th, the Independence Days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The following days are the Independence Days of Mexico (9/16) and Chile (9/17) and the month ends on October 15th. Here in the United States, Hispanic or Latinx people are the largest ethnic minority and account for roughly 18.5% of our population according to the US Census Bureau. Similar to other minorities in the United States, Hispanic and Latinx people experience several barriers to involvement with nature and the environment including language and class barriers and a lack of representation amongst environmental organizations and the exploitation of the natural areas in which some individuals make their homes. Despite these barriers, there are many Hispanic and Latinx people and organizations active in challenging their community’s marginalization, as well as the economic exploitation of the environment. Today we celebrate Hispanic and Latinx environmental advocates who have fought for the environment and their communities. 

Jamie Margolin 

At 18 years old, Jamie Margolin is a Columbian-American environmental activist, organizer, public speaker, and the published author of Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It, and co-founder of the international youth climate justice movement: Zero Hour. She is frequently involved in youth climate marches and rallies. Margolin is outspoken about the ways that inactivity and ignorance surrounding climate change have begun to threaten the futures of the younger generations and represents the power of youth voices in advocacy.  

 

Francia Marquez 

In 2018, an Afro-Columbian organizer and activist, Francia Marquez won the Goldman Environmental Prize for South and Central America. After seeing the effects that illegal gold mining was having on her country, Marquez organized the women from her town of La Toma and together they marched and pressured the Columbian government to remove the illegal miners from the town. From the start of her journey as an activist at just 13 years old, Marquez uses her Afro-Columbian dance, and music to communicate both politics and culture. She has been at the forefront of issues involving mining, agriculture, and deforestation. 

Isidro Baldenegro Lopez 

We cannot talk about environmental achievements and advocacy without acknowledging the risks that Hispanic and Latinx activists endure while fighting for their communities and environments. Isidro Baldenegro Lopez was a subsistence framer and community organizer of Mexico’s indigenous Tarahumara people and was murdered in 2017 after repeated death threats throughout his life as an activist. He left behind a legacy of non-violent resistance and dedication to the resiliency and preservation of indigenous culture in Mexico. Baldenegro was the 2005 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize and led several fights to combat illegal logging and preserve the old-growth forests in Sierra Madre. 

Liliana Madrigal  

Co-founder of the Amazon Conservation Team, Liliana Madrigal is an activist native to Costa Rica and specializes in issues relating to clean water, human rights, and environmental sustainability. Working as a Director and Liaison for The Nature Conservancy’s Costa Rica plan, she advocated on behalf of the native communities on the island.  Madrigal has done advocacy related to ethical supply chains and the ways that consumer behavior can shift the actions of producers, especially when it comes to sustainability and environmental conservation. 

Latino Outdoors 

Latino Outdoors is an organization aimed towards rebuilding the relationship between Latinx people and the Outdoors. Their Vision Statement is as follows: A world where all Latino communities enjoy nature as a safe, inclusive, and welcoming place – a world where the outdoors is a place to share and celebrate stories, knowledge, and culture, while growing leadership and an active community of Latino outdoor users, mentors, and stewards. Beginning as a blog and online community space in 2013, it has now blossomed into a community spanning across all parts of the country that provides mentoring, volunteering, and outdoor education to communities that are often excluded from the outdoors. You can learn more about Latino Outdoors at latinooutdoors.org. 

Local Feature: Latin American Community Center in Wilmington, DE

The Latin American Community Center and Delaware Nature Society partnered to hold a Monarch Migration Celebration, honoring the Monarch butterfly’s migration from the US to Mexico each year and celebrating Hispanic & Latinx Heritage month. The event took place on the Wilmington Riverfront. The Christina River and its wetlands support more than 200 species of wildlife, including the Monarch butterfly. Visitors were able to encounter live butterflies, borrow a butterfly net to try their hand at catching butterflies and other insects, help tag and release Monarchs for research, and make crafts. Monarch butterflies have been experiencing significant decline in population and public events like this are a great opportunity to connect community residents face-to-face with the wildlife that shares the marsh.

We hope you take some time out of this month to support and learn more about the issues that Hispanic and Latinx activists and communities are fighting for. Too often, these experiences are left out of larger conversations about environmentalism and environmental advocacy as a whole. There is so much rich diversity amongst Hispanic and Latinx communities across the country and around the world and we hope that you take some time this month to explore all that they have to offer! 

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Reducing Plastic Waste Within Delaware

Images of turtles choking on plastic, birds pecking at Styrofoam, and penguins strangled by six-pack bottle yokes cover our screens. It’s hard to connect those tragedies with the bottles in our hands and the bags holding our groceries. Yet, similar scenes are all around us, in the plastic bags blowing around empty fields and the bottles floating in streams across the state. Plastic waste remains one of the largest sources of pollution in the country, but luckily the Delaware General Assembly has passed two laws and proposed one that will reduce the amount of plastic we use and discard every day: 

 

  1. Plastic Bag Ban 2.0 – House Bill 212: In January 2021 the “Plastic Bag Ban” went into effect, banning single-use plastic bags. However, the former law applied to larger businesses, and allowed the use of thinner  plastic bags. Representative Brady’s “Plastic Bag Ban 2.0,” which the General Assembly passed on June 29, amends the current  law, expanding the ban to all businesses as well as banning bags thinner than 10 millimeters to help ensure bags are truly reusable.  But you can end the need for plastic bags altogether. Remember to bring your own reusable tote bags to your local grocery store, clothing chain, or any other retail establishment will no longer have plastic bags at checkout.  Only around 8.7% of plastic is recycled annually, so limiting the amount of plastic we use in our daily lives is one of the most effective ways to limit our individual impact on the planet. 
  2. Intentional Release of Balloons – Senate Bill 24: Much like plastic bags, deflated balloons can clutter waterways, kill wildlife, and take years to decompose naturally. To further minimize plastic pollution in Delaware, Senator Hansen has sponsored a bill that criminalizes the intentional release of balloons, which went into law on June 24. After April 30, 2022, intentionally releasing balloons into the sky will result in fines and community service, both of which depend upon the number of offenses and the amount of balloons released. Looking for an environmentally friendly way to celebrate? Bubbles are fun and eco-friendly!
  3. Styrofoam Ban – Senate Bill 140: Not only do plastic containers pollute the environment, but many can leach toxic chemicals into the food they hold. The International Agency for Cancer Research has classified styrene, which makes up Styrofoam (or “expanded polystyrene”), as a probable carcinogen. Senator Paradee’s proposed law would ban Styrofoam, stopping retailers from selling it and food establishments and schools from sing it. The legislation is currently waiting to be heard by the Senate Environment & Energy Committee when Legislative Session starts in January 2022. If it were to be passed in its current form, food establishments could no longer give out plastic straws without a request from customers, provide single-use plastic stirrers or picks, or serve ready-to-eat food in Styrofoam containers. Food establishments would replace these containers with environmentally-friendly alternatives; another important step in limiting the proliferation of single-use plastics. 

Your choices matter, too. 

State legislation is an important step in reducing plastic waste, but your individual actions are also important. By reducing the amount of plastic we use every day we can limit our environmental footprint, but it will require small changes in our daily routines. So, bring a tote bag to the grocery store, blow bubbles instead of releasing balloons, and choose not to use a straw. Watch as these small steps build upon each other, helping our local ecosystems and the whole Earth. 

Additional Resources:

  1. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-09/documents/styrene-oxide.pdf 
  2. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data 

This blog was written by Kari White, a student entering her sophomore year at Fordham University. She spent the past five years working with Delaware Nature Society in youth outreach, where she discovered the importance of environmental advocacy. 

Investments in Our Future: Sen. Carper and Gov. Carney Join Conservation Organizations to Highlight Christina River Project

Wilmington, DE (August 20, 2021) – U.S. Senator Tom Carper and Delaware Governor John Carney joined conservation partners in Wilmington today to celebrate the Christina and Brandywine River restoration and resiliency project funded by the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund. Another important step in the on-going work to improve Wilmington’s riverfront area with clean healthy rivers and attractive places for people and wildlife.    

“I am pleased to be here today with so many good partners to support the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund’s investments in the protection and preservation of this ecological treasure,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper, Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Projects like this are critical for our efforts to tackle climate change and help ensure that all Delawareans can enjoy these precious resources for generations to come.” 

For the future of federal infrastructure investments, the U.S. Senate recently approved the bipartisan infrastructure package. The bill includes $26 million of supplemental funding for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over five years. The funding support on-the-ground restoration projects and new and existing jobs across the 4-state watershed through the DRBRP. Projects will enhance fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality to support wildlife and drinking water for people, enhance water management for flood damage mitigation, and improve recreational opportunities for public access. Amidst the growing threats of sea level rise, a creeping salt line, frequent flooding, habitat loss, and polluted stormwater runoff, this investment is desperately needed.     

Governor Carney at DelNature Site, DuPont Environmental Education Center

“Millions of people in our region depend on the Delaware River Basin for clean drinking water, and the river remains vitally important for outdoor recreation and economic development for communities in Delaware and beyond,” said Governor John Carney. “All Delawareans deserve clean water. That’s why we’ve made it a priority to upgrade our infrastructure to make sure all Delaware families have access to clean drinking water. We will continue to work with local and federal partners and states in our region that rely on the Delaware River Watershed to properly manage this valuable resource.”

“DNREC has been working for years through the Christina-Brandywine River Remediation, Restoration, Resilience project – or CBR4 – toward a time when the Christina River and Brandywine Creek are once again drinkable, swimmable and fishable,” said Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary Shawn M. Garvin. “We believe it is an achievable goal and are building on decades of work to create a holistic, inspiring vision and plan to direct remediation, restoration and resilience actions for the next 10 to 20 years.” 

“The Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund has been invaluable to Delaware, and the watershed as a whole by investing in projects that improve drinking water quality, provide public access to outdoor recreation, and restore and conserve natural habitats, ” said Jen Adkins, Director of Clean Water Supply at American Rivers and a member of the Christina Conservancy Board of Directors. “To date, the Fund has supported 21 projects benefiting the First State, totaling $4.3 million with natural and economic benefits. We’re excited for our project on the lower Christina and Brandywine Rivers here in Wilmington to be among them.”    

Touring DelNature Site, DuPont Environmental Education Center (DEEC) on the Christina Riverfront

American Rivers collaborated with the Christina Conservancy to receive a Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund award to work closely with DNREC and other local partners on a Christina and Brandywine Rivers Remediation, Restoration and Resilience plan. This plan will create a blueprint with specific restoration projects for completing the transformation of the lower Christina and Brandywine Rivers in Wilmington into healthy river ecosystems. Additional partners on the project include Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Sarver Ecological, BrightFields, Inc, and Anchor QEA, who are providing scientific and technical expertise, as well as the Delaware Nature Society who is working with local groups like the South Wilmington Planning Network and Collaborate Northeast to seek input from local residents.   

“We’re thankful to our Congressional champions, including Senator Tom Carper and thrilled to see that our advocacy for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program continues to translate to on-the-ground dollars for restoration and conservation throughout the Delaware River Basin,” said Sandra Meola, Director, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed.  

“The attention and focus on investment in the Delaware River Watershed offer an encouraging outlook for the future of birds and communities in the region. Projects funded through the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, like the Christina River project, are prime examples that increased investment in conservation in the watershed benefits us all and makes us more resilient to the rising tide of climate change,” said Tykee James, Government Affairs Coordinator at the National Audubon Society. “My career in the environmental space jump started through opportunities with local conservation projects in nature and the Environmental Leadership Program that led me to a role as environmental policy advisor to a legislator in Philadelphia. And now at Audubon, I’m working directly with members of Congress and staff to build out the Delaware River Watershed Caucus to find solutions at all levels to protect my hometown watershed.” 

Green jobs and workforce development are a focus of Delaware Nature Society whose Trail Ambassadors offered Senator Carper and Governor Carney a tour of the Boardwalk Marsh. Programs such as the Trail Ambassadors not only connect youth closer to the environment but serve as a steppingstone to the proposed Civilian Climate Corps.  

“President Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps will put thousands of young people from all backgrounds to work making our communities more resilient, protecting our clean water, addressing environmental injustices, and restoring wildlife habitat — through essential projects like those supported through the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund,” said Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “A 21st century version of the Civilian Conservation Corps will accomplish these critical conservation goals, while equitably empowering the next generation of conservation leaders to strengthen communities across America by restoring treasured natural resources.”  

Added Joanne McGeoch, Delaware Nature Society Interim Executive Director, “We are grateful to the many partners involved in raising awareness and protection of the Delaware River Watershed.  This vital resource provides clean water for millions of people in the region, supports green jobs and our local economy.  Delaware Nature Society believes that investments in our youth are equally vital to ensuring our future.  To that end, we’ve launched the Trail Ambassador program, engaging local youth from Wilmington in training the next generation of conservation leaders.  Along with our partners at National Wildlife Federation, we support the Biden administration’s proposal for the Civilian Conservation Corps and look forward to working together to ensure that conservation jobs are part of the recovery efforts needed to protect our environment, tackle climate change, and boost our economy.”    

 The Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund was launched in 2018 to conserve and restore natural areas, corridors and waterways on public and private lands that support native fish, wildlife and plants, and to contribute to the vitality of the communities in the Delaware River Watershed. The fund is facilitated by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and funding is provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program.     

In total, 90 projects have been funded in the last three years that will improve 6,783 acres of forest habitat, treat polluted runoff using agricultural conservation practices on more than 4,596 acres, restore 141 acres of wetland habitat, and improve 3.5 miles of instream habitat in critical headwaters in the Delaware River Basin. View the full 2020 grant slate online at http://bit.ly/dwcf2020

Delaware Sees Landmark Conservation Funding for Fiscal Year 2022

The momentum of the Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice campaign held strong through the tumultuous months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in June 2021 we celebrated a landmark investment in conservation for Delaware: Over $75 million for State Fiscal Year (FY) 2022! Included under the umbrella of conservation funding are clean water investments, the conservation districts, as well as open space and farmland preservation.  Below we’ll break down the different line items, example projects, as well as recommendations for the future. 

Clean Water Investments 

The most significant investment was $50 million in the Clean Water Trust Fund, an account made specifically for addressing Delaware’s clean water concerns. The Clean Water Trust Fund was created by the Clean Water for DE Act, HB 200, which passed this June with the help of clean water champions Rep. Longhurst and Sen. Townsend. The Clean Water Trust Fund will be managed by a cabinet-level Oversight Committee and administered by the Water Infrastructure Advisory Committee (WIAC). Of the $50 million, $22.5 million will go towards both the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. (The remaining $5 million of the Clean Water Trust Fund investment is designated for the Conservation Districts. To learn more about this, see the next section.) 

Projects that can be funded utilizing the state revolving funds include, but are not limited to, municipal wastewater treatment and public sewer projects, watershed restoration, improvements to the public drinking water system, and installation of new drinking water systems. There will be a strategic plan developed for the Clean Water Trust Fund including at least two public input sessions. We hope to maximize participation by the public in order to develop a strategic plan that will best suit the communities in need. 

It was a Campaign priority to ensure that funds were made available in the form of grants, not just low-interest loans, for low income and/or underserved communities. We were glad to see that there is a requirement that 7% of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund be made available via low-interest loans and grants, but we will continue pushing for this percentage to increase and allow for more grants.  

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) also recently announced their Clean Water Initiative for Underserved Communities. You can learn more about this new initiative here. 

Conservation Districts 

Delaware’s Conservation Districts play an important role in developing locally driven solutions to natural resource concerns. They are made up of volunteer cooperators within each district that help develop plans to address soil erosion, sedimentation, flooding, and the management of animal wastes, fertilizers, and agricultural chemicals to protect farmland and water quality.  

The Conservation Districts received $5 million in reauthorization funding, that when combined with the $5 million in the Clean Water Trust Fund Account, creates a grand total of $10 million for Resource, Conservation, & Development. 

Open Space & Farmland Preservation 

Open space and farmland preservation are critical programs for Delaware and are vital in protecting both our state’s unique biodiversity and our thriving agricultural economy. Both programs were fully funded this year at $10 million apiece.  

The Campaign considers both open space and farmland preservation as a win for clean water, but preserving open space has the most obvious benefits for water quality. Investments in preserving our natural open spaces means protecting the soil, wetlands, and forests that can filter out contaminants, reduce the risk of flooding, and recharge underground drinking water supplies.  

Additional Funding and Recommendations for the Future 

Aside from the major investments in conservation listed above, there were additional line items in Delaware’s FY2022 budget that have implications for clean water. Examples include half a million each for the Christina/Brandywine River Remediation Restoration and Resilience Project and the Delaware Bayshore Initiative, as well as investment in Delaware’s shoreline and waterway management. 

Conservation funding remains critical as we move into the future and begin feeling the effects of climate change. Protecting our natural resources and updating our public water systems are important steps to investing in resilience and the Clean Water: Delaware’s Choice Campaign remains committed to advocating for continued state clean water funding.

Intersectionality and the Environment

One of the greatest lessons that you can learn from nature is that everything is more than itself. A tree is not just the tree itself. It is the roots that anchor the soil, house for birds, it bears fruit for us to eat and gives us shade when it’s warm. Nothing in nature exists in isolation and neither do people. We are a collection of the many parts of our identity including our race, income, the language(s) we speak, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical ability, age and so much more–even the neighborhood where we were raised. The key to unlocking this understanding is to understand intersectionality.

Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, intersectionality takes a deeper look at how the many parts of one’s identity intersect and overlap with each other. It takes into consideration that an individual can be affected differently by situations because of the various burdens placed on certain social groups. Intersectionality is often looked at through the frames of oppression and/or discrimination. One common example is that Black women are both Black and women and thus experience discrimination in different ways than a black man or a white woman because they are subject to both racism and sexism at the same time. Those who are disabled or identify with various other minoritized identities face additional barriers when having to rely on signage to navigate recreational areas. For example, signs that do not include braille or are positioned too high to be legible from a wheelchair could pose issues for disabled individuals, while signs written only in English fail to accommodate those for whom English is not a primary language.

The way people associate with the environment is often a reflection of their intersectional identities. While the environment may appear like an apolitical or neutral space to the dominant culture, to others it may be a source of pollution, inaccessibility, risk, or danger. Understanding intersectionality will help broaden the perspective on how people relate to their environment, as well as help inform strategies to increase access to open space and interest in outdoor education.

When hurricanes make landfall, we often see the same groups struggling the most in the aftermath. Low-income people may have trouble accessing a car or the money to evacuate. Disabled people who might not have had the mobility or social support to safely evacuate or access necessary equipment and resources. Houseless people who might not have access to information about storm shelters and resources or the ability to evacuate often struggle as well. Intersectionality looks at these three identities and highlights that having one or more of these identities means being burdened in different, and possibly more intense, ways.

At its core, environmental justice is about intersectionality and which groups of people are being disproportionately negatively affected by their surroundings due to their identity or experiences. To fix these issues we need to take a deep look at how certain groups are affected based on things like race, gender expression/ identity, disability, income, language barriers, and more.

Looking at climate change policies through an intersectional lens, it highlights that low-income communities, amongst other groups, are going to be hit especially hard. Not only because they are more likely to live in low-lying areas most likely to be hit with rising waters but also potentially negatively affected by policies to address climate change itself without considering intersectionality and other principles relating to diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice. The carbon tax has long been viewed to shift the cost of climate change and air pollution onto the consumer to try and make people more aware of their environmental impact. On the surface level, it seems like a great solution, but an intersectional view would tell us that a tax by itself could disproportionately affect low-income people and those who live in areas with inadequate or inaccessible public transportation. There must be some form of community investment to alleviate this disproportionate impact such as tax breaks or transportation subsidies for low-income populations written into the policy. Plus, true intersectionality also involves fixing the source of the inequity, not simply addressing surface issues. Maybe the tax revenue goes to improving public transportation or a program is created to help ease the climate change burden on low-income people. Addressing the root of environmental harm means progress forward for everybody.

In all areas of environmental policies and access, we need creative solutions so we can protect people now, but also replace or repair everything that threatens their wellbeing. This is not easy work, but it is necessary and rewarding. Just like nature, intersectionality shows us that everything is connected. We, as humans never identity as one thing, we are a collection of ideas, morals, experiences, and traits that have been passed down through generations. Who we are is impacted by everything from our race, income, the languages we speak, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, citizenship status, and so much more all at the same time. Intersectionality shows us that, by paying attention to intersecting identities, we can find inclusive and effective solutions that don’t leave the most vulnerable people behind. It forces us to investigate the structures of our society and pinpoint who has been affected and how it happened. Any meaningful work is intersectional by nature and the environment is no exception.

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

 

Pride Outside: Making Our Outdoor Spaces More Welcoming & Inclusive

Every June we celebrate Pride Month in the United States to honor the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, which was one of the sparks of an era of change for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people in this country. Despite the rights that the LGBTQ+ community has fought for and won, there are fundamental needs that have yet to be secured in communities across the country. Now, more than ever, we need to work to make spaces safer for LGBTQ+ people, especially in the outdoors. 

One common concern surrounding LGBTQ+ protection is the right to feel safe from day-to day. According to a study by Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, LGBTQ+ people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to be victims of violent crime. 2020 saw a devastating rise in murder and hate crimes against Black and Latinx transwomen. This is unacceptable. For our most vulnerable communities, it is essential that we reimagine our spaces to ensure that they are accessible and safe for everyone, including LGBTQ+ people.  It has been shown that LGBTQ+ people showed concern for the environment and sustainability at a 20% higher rate than non- LGBTQ+ people. This highlights, one of many reasons, why we owe it to the community to create safe and inclusive spaces that many LGBTQ+ people are fighting to protect. 

For us to create safe spaces, one of the first things we must understand is that a sense of security is directly connected to one’s past and present experiences. For too many LGBTQ+ people these experiences have resulted in trauma that can make engaging with the outdoors more difficult and painful than others without those negative experiences. Therefore, it is important for us to create spaces with compassion and publicly state our support for LGBTQ+ individuals.  

It is worth noting that just as the environmental justice movement has historically struggled with issues relating to race and class, the Pride movement has as well. Advocacy efforts after the Stonewall Uprising were largely centered around the wellbeing of white, cis-gender individuals.  Gender non-conforming and trans people of color (QTPOC) were often overlooked as they faced higher rates of violence and were disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDs epidemic. While progress has been made, there is still work to be done. Workplace discrimination greatly affects the jobs that LGBTQ+ people can hold, thus limiting the opportunities that are available for them to become and remain financially stable. As a result of this, many LGBTQ+ people also live-in environmental justice communities that are overburdened by environmental stressors and harm. Engaging with nature and the outdoors has many proven benefits related to mental health, physical health, and more. In this way, LGBTQ+ justice is Environmental Justice. 

The Pride that we now celebrate was made possible by the countless activists and allies who fought and organized for the rights that are now afforded to LGBTQ+ people in the United States. We invite you to check out and support the amazing LGBTQ+ environmental organizations listed below. 

  1. Delaware Pride 
  2. OUT for Sustainability 
  3. The Venture Out Project 
  4. The Trevor Project 

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Juneteenth and Environmental Justice

Emancipation Day Celebration Band c. 1900

In one of Frederick Douglass’ most memorable speeches he says, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” We celebrate Independence Day every July 4th to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It is a day full of American pride and gives us an opportunity to pay our respects to those who fought for our independence from Britain. The reality that Douglass brought up is that the 4th of July did not hold the same meaning and pride for American slaves because they weren’t free themselves.

Freedom for slaves came in waves. One of the first waves came January 1, 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the slaves in southern rebel states. Juneteenth (also known as Emancipation Day and African-American Freedom Day) marks the day over 2 years later on June 19, 1865 when word of the emancipation reached slaves in Galveston, Texas. Since then, the holiday has spread, from Texas, throughout the United States and serves as a time for African-Americans to come together and celebrate their independence and culture.

Juneteenth is often marked by festivals, parades, community service, cookouts, and many other forms of Black joy. The atmosphere of Juneteenth is amazing to witness and is a constant reminder of how Black people have used joy as a form of resistance even in the shadows of slavery. It marks emancipation and freedom and the beginnings of Reconstruction that helped move the community forward, even in the face of growing Jim Crow laws.

In addition to it being a time of celebration, Juneteenth is a time to reflect on the ways that the effects of slavery have continued since the Emancipation Proclamation and even the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Slavery was abolished without providing protection for the rights of newly freed slaves, meaning states were free to create their own systems to prevent African-Americans and their descendants from becoming truly liberated. Slavery was abolished, but racism led to Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that were aimed at preventing Black people from prospering and gaining equality. These were direct responses to the passages of the Reconstruction amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th) that together abolished slavery, granted citizenship and equal protection to everybody born or naturalized in the United States, and secured the right to vote for Black men. As a result, some of the Black Codes required Black people to get yearly work permits or risk punishments including arrest or forced labor. They also threatened the right to vote through poll taxes, intimidation tactics, and literacy tests that were intentionally made to bar Black men from being able to safely exercise their right to vote. The Codes varied by state and directly challenged the progress that African-Americans had made with home ownership, access to education, and reclaiming their right to pursue the lives that they wanted to live.

Juneteenth marks the shift from fighting for the freedom of slaves to fighting for the liberation of all Black people. The fight for Black liberation, access to a healthy outdoors and environmental justice have always been connected. The placement of hazardous waste sites and pollution in Black neighborhoods is a direct result of structural racism and historical housing discrimination. The same systems that allowed Jim Crow laws in the south also allowed the redlining practices that pushed Black families into industrial, urban centers by denying mortgages in the growing, and predominately white, suburbs. The after effects of these redlining practices can be found at the core of many environmental justice issues relating to access to important resources and proximity to harmful facilities. Liberation for environmental justice communities would mean updated and greener infrastructure to make neighborhoods safer. It would mean investments in schools and community centers to ensure the success of underserved communities. Most importantly, it would mean a more aggressive strategy to address legacy toxins and to provide neighborhoods a say in what industries are located near their homes.

Every year Juneteenth reminds us that there is always work to be done to ensure the liberation of Black folks in the USA. It allows us to celebrate those who have fought for our right to live and experience love and joy and motivates us to continue to demand liberation for the communities still struggling with the legacies of slavery.

Here in Delaware, the holiday has been recognized in several ways throughout the state. Governor Carney has closed state offices and both Delaware State University and University of Delaware have as well. There are also plenty of opportunities to get engaged this weekend! Looking for ways to celebrate in Delaware? Check out these Juneteenth events below and look around your community for more! 

Juneteenth Celebration in the Park – 10:30 a.m. at Christina Park 

Delaware Freedom Ride with Urban Bike Project and Delaware Greenways 

Juneteenth Block Party– 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Walnut Street YMCA 

For more events and information visit https://delawarejuneteenth.org/  

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Clean Water Maps for Delaware Legislative Districts

Over the past few months we have been working on developing a series of maps which illustrate Delawareans’ unique relationship to clean water and clean water infrastructure.

We created these maps in conjunction with Bright Fields Inc. as well as the University of Delaware’s Water Resource Center. The poverty concentrations are based on federal census data. Water and sewer data are from state and county databases. These maps are organized by legislative district, and tell a story about how areas served by sewers and public water systems intersect with poverty concentrations. These maps show that the lack of access to sewer and public water is often correlated to areas with high poverty concentrations in our state.

Descriptions and links to the maps are included below. 

Delaware Legislative Districts Showing Public Sewer Service Areas and Poverty Rates

House Version | Senate Version

The black, forward-slashing on this map shows Sewer Service Areas. Residents of these areas are served by sewage treatment plants. Residents outside of these areas flush their wastes into septic tanks and drain fields that, in Delaware’s sandy soils, can be a major source of groundwater contamination.

Delaware Legislative Districts Showing Public Water Service Areas and Poverty Rates

House Version | Senate Version

The black, backslashing on this map shows the extent of Water Service Areas. Residents inside these areas receive their drinking water from regulated wells or surface water systems that are tested routinely and treated to remove EPA-regulated contaminants. Residents outside of these areas receive their drinking water from a single or community wells, many of which may or may not be tested or treated for contaminants.

Delaware Legislative Districts Showing Impaired Surface Waters and Poverty Rates

House Version | Senate Version

The red segments on this map show dreams that have poor water quality. Delaware’s list of impaired waters includes 377 bodies of water that suffer from excess nutrients, low-dissolved oxygen, toxins, and/or bacteria that negatively impact human and aquatic life. Approximately 90% of Delaware’s waterways are considered impaired. [It is important to note that many Delaware streams have not yet been tested.]

We are happy to answer questions and further discuss the thought process behind these visuals at any time at Emily.Knearl@DelNature.org.