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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate passes legislation to address struggling waterways, drinking water infrastructure

June 22, 2021

DOVER – The Delaware State Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed the Clean Water for Delaware Act, legislation that will invest millions of dollars to improve Delaware’s drinking water infrastructure, prevent flooding in vulnerable communities and keep pollution out of our waterways.

HB 200 also prioritizes investments in low-income communities and green infrastructure and requires an annual strategic plan to set water quality goals.

“Delaware has reached a point of near crisis when it comes to our water quality and water management,” said Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, D-Newark/Bear.

“Many waterways in the First State are polluted, dozens of communities are experiencing chronic flooding and far too many of our neighbors lack access to clean drinking water,” he said. “While this legislation represents a critical initial investment in the health and economic vitality of Delaware, my hope is that it will also represent a commitment to the future investments that will be needed if we hope to ensure our waterways are protected, our communities are safe and our health is assured for decades to come.”

Poor water quality, stormwater management issues and a backlog of infrastructure projects have long threatened the 70,000 jobs and $7 billion in economic activity directly related to Delaware’s water resources.

Roughly 100 miles of Delaware waterways now have fish consumption advisories as a result of high concentrations of PCBs, metals, and pesticides. More than 375 bodies of water in Delaware suffer from excess nutrients, low-dissolved oxygen, toxins, and bacteria. Much of Delaware’s water and wastewater infrastructure is strained by population growth and nearing the end of its useful life. Climate change is also producing greater flooding risk in the nation’s lowest lying state as a result of sea level rise and worsening hurricane seasons.

Federal funding for water infrastructure projects has declined by 75% since the late 1970s, creating a backlog of more than $700 million in projects from Claymont to Delmar vying for funding over the next five years.

Passed by the House in April, House Bill 200 would establish a Clean Water Trust account and increase funding for low-income and underserved communities, and require a comprehensive clean water report and strategic plan to ensure that priority projects are addressed in a timely fashion.

The Clean Water Trust would include appropriations in the Bond Bill for Safe Drinking Water, Water Pollution Control, and Resource Conservation and Development projects plus loan repayments, interest on invested funds and other funding made available for those purposes.

To help seed the trust, Governor John Carney has allocated $50 million in his fiscal year 2022 recommended budget for clean water projects, including $22.5 million for safe drinking water, $22.5 million for water pollution control and $5 million for resource conservation and development.

HB 200 also would create a Clean Water Trust Fund Oversight Committee made of representatives from each state agency that makes water investment and management decisions. The committee would be charged with producing a comprehensive annual report that accounts for sources and uses of funds for wastewater, stormwater and drinking water infrastructure, plus several other water quality-related programs, such as drainage, beach preservation, waterway management, cover crops and tax ditches.

Finally, the legislation adds new members to the Water Infrastructure Advisory Council (WIAC) which will provide assistance to the Oversight Committee, including a representative from the environmental justice community.

“The time to protect our waterways, support our stormwater systems and ensure clean, healthy drinking water to our residents is now,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, the prime sponsor of HB 200. “This is an environmental justice issue, access to clean water is a basic human right and a necessity for a healthy community, economy, and state. HB 200 will help secure our future and ensure that our children and grandchildren have the needed, life-sustaining force of water for years to come.”

The legislation’s inclusion of green infrastructure means that priority will be given to clean water projects that enhance natural systems to provide ecological benefits that improve water quality, as well as place an emphasis on projects that demonstrate a high ratio of nutrient or pollution reduction and improve community resilience to extreme weather, sea-level rise and other climate impacts.

“Delaware Nature Society appreciates the hard work and commitment of the General Assembly, particularly Rep. Longhurst and Sen. Townsend, and community advocates for making today possible,” said Emily Knearl, director of advocacy and external affairs for the Delaware Nature Society. “For over six years, the Clean Water Campaign has worked with thousands of Water Warriors and over 60 organizations, businesses, partners and legislators to elevate the need for dedicated clean-water funding and we are excited to finally see the passage of HB 200. This bill is an important step forward to expanding clean water access to all Delawareans.”

HB 200 now heads to Governor John Carney for his signature.