By Laura Miller, Outreach Coordinator and Delaware State Lead to the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, Delaware Nature Society
The Delaware River Watershed is no stranger to water quality and flooding issues. In Delaware, the need for sustainable clean water is growing. After all, 90 percent of Delaware’s waterways are considered impaired and communities across the state, many of which are underserved, face chronic flooding. As the need for clean water funding grows, state and local budgets decrease, leaving a large gap between funding and statewide needs. Delaware Nature Society (DNS) has studied and advocated for Delaware’s water quality for decades and concluded that it would take a grassroots advocacy and education effort to push for much needed funding. So, in 2015 DNS brought together a core group of conservation organizations and pitched the idea of building a statewide outreach and education campaign to grow a strong, unified voice for clean water funding.
With a resounding “yes!” Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and Delaware Center for the Inland Bays joined DNS to hit the ground running to build Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice campaign. Ambitious and excited, we hosted our first Clean Water Rally that year. A group of around 50 people joined us in Dover, DE to fight for clean water funding and to introduce our mission to decision-makers.
Fast forward four years to our recent 5th Annual Clean Water Rally. We stood alongside over 150 blue-clad Water Warriors (our ever-growing group of clean water advocates), Clean Water Alliance members (our diverse clean water stakeholder coalition), legislators, community activists, and television cameras as we rallied for House Bill 200, the Clean Water for Delaware Act. The legislation, which would dedicate funding for clean water and flood resiliency projects, features sponsorship by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride.
After the rally, our clean water community convened on the House Natural Resources Committee, where the bill was heard. Over 30 of Water Warriors bravely stood up and testified in support of the bill. The rest of our advocates cheered from the House Chamber and gallery above as faith leaders, grandparents, conservationists, and scientists discussed their support for clean water funding. Thanks in part to our ever-growing support, the bill passed out of committee unanimously.
Yet, even with how far we’ve come, we have a long way to go. Governor John Carney and his Administration expressed opposition to this bill, which has stalled its movement. As we continue to advocate for clean water funding, there are victories we can celebrate!
Delaware’s plastic bag ban was heard by the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Committee on the day of our Rally, and more than 10 Water Warriors attended and testified in favor of restricting single use plastic bags in Delaware. The ban, which limits the conditions when single use plastic bags can be given to customers, passed out of committee and was approved by the full Senate the next day. It now sits on the Governor’s desk for his signature and he indicated he will sign it soon.
The speed at which the plastic bag ban moved through the General Assembly is invigorating. It shows a level of legislative support that we have wanted to see for clean water funding. With the relentless activism and dedication of the Clean Water Alliance and Water Warriors, we will continue to push for clean water funding. We will continue to advocate. We will continue to hold decision-makers accountable and ask them to support the proposed clean water funding mechanism. In her recent Op-Ed, one of the campaign founders, Brenna Goggin of DNS, called upon legislative leaders to stand up for every single person in Delaware and commit to improving our environment, economy, and health for generations to come, either by supporting HB 200 or by proposing another sustainable clean water funding option.
The time for clean water funding is now. We have come so far in five years and we look forward to celebrating the culmination of our hard work with the creation of a clean water solution.
This article originally appeared in Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed on June 24, 2019. You can read it here.