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.
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.