By Brenna Goggin
Brenna Goggin is director of advocacy at the Delaware Nature Society. She has served on several state committees, including the Clean Water and Flood Abatement Task Force.
Access to clean, healthy water affects every part of our lives. It’s critical to our health, our economy and our wildlife.
From the moment we wake up and shower to the moment we brush our teeth before bed, there’s nothing more important than water. But Delaware has some serious water quality issues looming ahead.
Our state faces a deficit of over $100 million in clean water funding each year — and that number could continue to grow. Federal funds to address water quality and flood abatement have been inconsistent, and municipalities and counties just don’t have the budget to respond to our most pressing clean water needs.
So, for the past five years, our Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice campaign made it a priority to advocate for a state-level dedicated and sustainable funding stream for water quality improvement and flood reduction projects.
We studied the issue as part of Delaware’s Clean Water and Flood Abatement Task Force. The Task Force, which was made up of industry stakeholders, agricultural interests, academia and government officials, produced a report listing our most dire clean water needs and offering solutions on how to address them.
One solution included legislation that would have introduced a new fee to raise $20 million annually specifically for clean water and flood abatement needs. These funds could have been leveraged to receive a total of over $50 million in clean water funding from federal and philanthropic matching funds.
But, despite over 80 Delawareans testifying in support of the legislation, the bill failed to move out of the House Natural Resources Committee because key legislators and officials in Gov. John Carney’s administration said they did not support the new fee that was included in the legislation.
We met with those legislators and Governor Carney. We offered creative ideas and made sure they knew we were open to and supportive of any ideas they had that would reach our goal: Secure funding for clean water and flood reduction in Delaware.
We sent letters, made calls, and requested more meetings. We vetted ideas for legislation and awaited feedback.
Time went on. The increase in extreme weather events flooded our roads, farms and homes. Entire communities in Sussex County started receiving bottled water on their doorstep as they learned of dangerous contaminants in their wells. The most expensive emergency repair in New Castle County history had to be made to the county’s largest sewer line.
Green algae next to a boat dock at Love Creek Marina in Lewes in April 2017. (Photo: Jason Minto, The News Journal)
Despite these issues, last year’s legislative session wrapped up with no secured dedicated funding stream for clean water.
But, with excitement and hope, we, along with hundreds of clean water advocates, cheered as House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, introduced HB 200, the Clean Water for Delaware Act. Addressing the administration’s primary concerns with previous legislation, this bill does not impose a new fee.
Yet, some legislative leaders and the Carney administration continue to have issues with the bill.
We can’t once again fail to find the dedicated funding we need to address water quality. How many more bottles of water must people receive from the state before decision makers make a move?
How many boil water or fish consumption advisories must state agencies issue before Delaware’s leaders decide this is a real problem needing a real solution? How much money is Delaware’s tourism industry willing to lose each time Route 1 floods and visitors can’t get to our local beach and bay businesses?
We will continue to advocate. We will continue to be open to alternative solutions, amendments, and ideas. We will continue to lend our expertise and support to any real plan for sustainably addressing the $100 million annual backlog in funding we are facing each year.
We are asking legislative leaders to stand up for every single person in Delaware and commit to improving our environment, economy and health for generations to come — not just in words, but in action, too. The time is now.
This article originally appeared in Delaware Online on June 12, 2019. You can read it here.