Longhurst Bill Supports Delaware’s Struggling Waterways

DOVER – Lawmakers have filed legislation aimed at cleaning up Delaware’s waterways by supporting efforts to control flooding, improving water quality and ensuring that they are vibrant, healthy and safe.

Delaware’s economic vitality and overall health are contingent on strong water resources, with watersheds supporting more than 70,000 jobs and contributing up to nearly $7 billion to Delaware’s regional economy. However, our state is plagued by poor water quality, stormwater management issues and a backlog of fragmented infrastructure projects, threatening the quality of life of our residents and state.

House Bill 200, sponsored by Rep. Valerie Longhurst, would work to close the gaps in critical projects, placing an emphasis on stormwater and flood management, and adding testing components so water can be screened for unsafe chemicals.

“Frankly, I’m concerned with the fact that Delawareans have been exposed to dangerous drinking water. I’m worried that residents can’t use our recreational waterways due to contamination and pollution. It’s horrifying to see that some roads are simply impassable in intense weather events due to faulty flood management. Is this the reality we want for the First State?” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear.

“It’s time to be bold, and lay the foundation so future generations do not face these detrimental ramifications. As one of the nation’s lowest-lying states, Delaware needs to act today and put the necessary funding into water infrastructure.” 

A deep dive into Delaware’s water issues showed how the need for a clean water plan is paramount. Wastewater infrastructure supports more than 85 percent of Delaware’s population, but constantly feels the strain of aging equipment and population growth.

Meanwhile, federal funding for water infrastructure has been cut by 75 percent since the 1980s, and Delaware has more than $700 million in projects, from Wilmington to Selbyville, that need to be funded over the next five years.

“A dedicated, sustainable funding source for these types of projects is desperately needed and long overdue,” said Senate President Pro Tem David McBride, D-Hawk’s Nest.  “This is an issue that impacts every Delaware resident, from the water our families drink to the natural environment that has provided recreation and employment up and down our state for generations. I believe we owe it to our children and grandchildren to ensure our waterways are protected, our communities are safe and our way of life can continue for decades to come.”  

Similar to previous clean water legislative endeavors, HB 200 creates a Clean Water Trust comprised of financial and environmental experts to manage infrastructure expenditures as recommended by the existing Water Infrastructure Advisory Council.

The advisory council will develop a Clean Water Plan that includes water quality standards; water resource management plans in concert with the Conservation Districts; a synthesis of agency-wide programs and activities related to Delaware’s waterways; water testing priorities and a five-year strategic plan for Delaware. The Clean Water Trust would fund those recommendations and ultimately submit a detailed accounting of expenditures, project list by priority, strategic plans and copies of yearly audits to the Delaware General Assembly. Additionally, as with previous iterations of the water legislation, the Clean Water Trust would be given the authority to issue bonds and pursue federal matching grants. 

However, there are also some key differences. Instead of implementing a water fee, projects would be funded through existing, diversified financial sources, laying a pipeline to begin long-needed work. HB 200 emphasizes flooding management, by doubling the amount the trust must spend on flooding each year, and mandates that $500,000 is allocated each year toward extensive state testing on nitrates, phosphates and harmful chemicals that infiltrate water.

“This is a critical first step towards addressing the crisis-level needs we see throughout Delaware,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark/Bear.  “From chronic flooding, to aging sewer systems, to drinking water that isn’t drinkable, Delaware desperately needs sustained investment in water infrastructure. This bill represents initial steps down a path of true commitment to meeting our water challenges.  Let’s show immediate progress, and then push for even more investment to promote our economy and the health and safety of all Delawareans.”

The issue of clean water for Delaware has been at the forefront of many advocacy groups throughout the state, pushing for change and progress.

“Delaware Nature Society appreciates the hard work and the commitment of the General Assembly, especially Representative Longhurst and Senators McBride and Townsend in addressing our water quality issues,” said Brenna Goggin, director of Advocacy for the Delaware Nature Society.

“For over five years, we have been working with over 60 organizations, businesses, and partners to elevate the need for dedicated clean water funding and are excited to see the introduction of HB 200. With over 90% of our waterways polluted, communities at risk or currently experiencing flooding, and drinking water issues across the State, now more than ever we need action to address this issue.”

“We cannot afford to kick investment down the road. We already had a water emergency scare in Blades. We do not want Delaware to become Flint, Michigan or New Orleans,” added Rep. Longhurst. “We need to invest in our infrastructure before it is too late.”