The Delaware River Basin Commission released its first State of the Basin reports in 6 years, saying that water quality is improving. The report found that nutrients in the river are decreasing and also found that some fish in the river are making a comeback. The mostly positive report was tempered by concerns about increased stormwater runoff, a rise in invasive species, and further encroaching of salt water upstream.
“The Delaware River is cleaner, but the DRBC report paints too rosy a picture of the true state of the Delaware Basin. The Delaware River watershed provides drinking water for 17 million people. There is still not enough being done to protect the groundwater and to curb overdevelopment and urbanization in the basin. They are not dealing with the historic industrial legacy of pollution including PCBs and other chemicals. They have not implemented Special Protection Waters limits on pollution. They’re not doing enough to deal with the effects of climate change and sea level rise. We also still don’t a full ban on fracking and fracking waste,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The State of the Basin 2019 is that we need to do more on climate change, cleaning up toxic sites, and protecting our forest from overdevelopment. We need stricter standards and more regulatory teeth.”
Fracking in the Delaware River Basin would destroy tens of thousands of forests, open space, and wildlife habitat. At the same time it will pollute our waterways and threaten the drinking water for 17 million people. The fracking process involves injecting massive amounts of water and dangerous chemicals into the ground. The process also releases toxic chemicals like arsenic and mercury.
“The biggest pollution threat to the Basin is fracking and fracking waste. Three governors have come out for full ban, but haven’t done it yet. Until they do, the basin is at risk. Fracking involves injecting huge amounts of water and volatile organic chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde in rock formations that pollute surrounding aquifers and waterways. Some of these chemicals have been linked to cancer. The average well uses 2.5 to 4.5 million gallons of water for fracking, adding to the region’s water loss. A full ban on fracking in the basin is critical to protecting the watershed,” said Tittel.
Most of the DRBC eport’s 31 indicators received a “good” or “very good” rating. Among positive indicators was an increase in dissolved oxygen levels, which allow more fish species to breed, Concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients typically used in farm fertilizer are declining in the Delaware estuary.
“Overdevelopment and sprawl are causing more stormwater runoff bringing pollutants into the river. We’re paving over aquifer recharge areas, and overpumping from development is also adding to the water loss in the basin. Sea level rise combined with the water loss means salt water is moving farther upstream and could affect vulnerable water supply intakes. Warmer temperatures in the river and reservoirs will cause more evaporation and further damage water quality,” said Tittel. “There is also an historic industrial legacy of pollution all along the river that is not being properly addressed. Dangerous chemicals such as PCBs and dioxin continue to impact water while toxic sites are not cleaned up. These toxic chemicals are already having an impact on fish and birds.
Sea levels in the Delaware Bay are expected to rise by up to 5 feet by 2100. Climate impacts will not just bring warmer weather and more rain, but will trigger bigger and more frequent storms requiring better planning to deal with flooding.
“The report does acknowledge the growing threat of climate change on the basin. As temperatures rise and rain increases, stormwater runoff from increased amounts of impervious cover will worsen, adding to the pollution. Flooding will increase. Rising sea levels will push salt water farther upstream, threatening water supply intakes and our drinking water. Warmer conditions will allow more opportunities for invasive species to enter the river’s ecosystem,” said TIttel. “The recent approval of an LNG port in Gibbstown also threatens the basin. They’re only looking at the pier and not what’s on land. The port will add to contaminants in the watershed.”
Among the more serious concerns included in the report was less sanguine is the outlook for salinity in the basin. The report said that rising sea levels caused by climate change are pushing more salt water into the river’s tidal section where authorities for Philadelphia and several South Jersey counties have drinking-water intakes.
“We need stricter monitoring and stricter standards in the watershed to properly protect our water. We need to implement Special Protection Waters standards that will greatly limit pollutants. We need tougher rules to reduce overdevelopment and stormwater runoff. We need a ban on fracking and faster cleanup of toxic sites in the region. We need better modeling to guide development and reduce the impacts of sea level rise. We also must do more to fight climate change, including a moratorium on all fossil-fuel projects in the state,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The Delaware River may be improving, but we still have a lot more to do. We need stricter regulations to protect water quality and forests. We also need programs to reduce greenhouse gases, address sea level rise and improve climate adaptation efforts. Otherwise the State of the Basin will continue to suffer.”