Delaware River Named “River of the Year”

Articles | April 16, 2020

The Delaware River has been named American River’s 2020 “River of the Year!” American Rivers is a nationwide organization with the mission to protect wild rivers, restore damaged ones, and conserve clean water for people and nature.

NYLCV/EF works with the Delaware River Watershed Initiative and the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed to raise awareness among New Yorkers about the importance of protecting the Delaware River, specifically the Upper Delaware River region of New York State. Many people are not aware that the Delaware River starts in Hancock where the East Branch and West Branch converge. Delaware Riverkeeper has a good map of the upper river here. 

The river flows about 300 miles from its headwaters down to the Delaware Estuary and Bay. The watershed spans New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware and travels through some of the most densely populated regions of the northeast. The watershed provides drinking water to an estimated 13.3 million people, including two of the five largest cities in the country: New York City and Philadelphia.

For American Rivers to celebrate the Delaware River with this honor is an exciting step in our collective appreciation for this important and often neglected river. Just over half a century ago, the Delaware River was full of sewage and laden with pollution, unable to support marine life and disrupting nearby communities. Many important wins have contributed to the much-improved Delaware River that we know today. Almost 60 years ago, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) became the first multi-state regulatory effort focused on collaborative watershed management. In addition to the DRBC, the Clean Water Act of 1972 also helped address and remediate pollution in the river. 

More recently, in 2016, President Obama signed the Delaware River Basin Restoration Act, which acknowledged the need for more coordination of restoration and protection efforts for the watershed. In 2018, the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program was appropriated $4 million to start providing grants to on-the-ground restoration and watershed protection projects. In 2019, $5 million dollars were appropriated. Most recently, Congress appropriated $10 million for the program in 2020. 

To the Upper Delaware River (UDR) region of New York, the river provides drinking water, jobs, a tourism economy, and limitless recreational opportunities, including one of the finest cold water trout fisheries in the country. It’s also home to the American shad, American eel, brook trout, river herrings, and numerous endangered species, such as the dwarf wedge mussel and bog turtle. Millions of visitors flock to the UDR each year to fish, hike, kayak, hunt, and camp, contributing $3.5 billion to New York State’s economy. 

While the UDR may not have the same issues as the more populated and developed areas downstream, climate change, frequent flooding, accelerated erosion and sedimentation, flow alterations, invasive species, and dangerous water temperature fluctuations all threaten the health and future of the upper river and the communities that rely on it. We must continue to support federal and state programs that preserve water quality, improve aquatic habitat, mitigate flooding, enhance recreational opportunities, and help spur economic revitalization. 

The Delaware River has fittingly received the award for “River of the Year” 2020 because of the many restoration and stewardship efforts led by nonprofit organizations across the four states.

The story of the Delaware River is a good example of environmental progress that can happen when we all work together to protect our precious natural resources.

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