In January 2020, clean water advocates from across the state of Delaware were crowded into a small room, huddled around a podium where Governor Carney was preparing to make the announcement we had all been waiting years to hear. State Senate and House leadership were in attendance, as well as reporters, staffers, public officials, and a few of our dedicated Water Warriors and Clean Water Alliance members. You could feel the excited buzz of anticipation throughout the room. When Governor Carney declared his commitment to dedicating $50 million in his budget for clean water initiatives and his support for House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst’s enabling legislation, the Clean Water for Delaware Act, the crowd responded with gratitude and earnest applause. For little did we know, in just a couple short months a global pandemic would diminish our hopes of passing any clean water legislation in 2020.
Fast forward to January 2021. The Clean Water for Delaware Act is back, and Governor Carney has just announced a commitment to investing $50 million in clean water during his budget address!
This announcement is a great first step, and a victory for our Water Warriors, but there is more work to do for clean water this year. Fortunately, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst remains committed to securing the $50 million investment, as well as passing her clean water legislation. We, the Delaware Nature Society (DelNature), are excited for her support and are optimistic that together we can make 2021 the year clean water legislation crosses the finish line in Delaware.
We recently had the chance to connect with Representative Longhurst to ask about her inspiration to work on this legislation. For her, the impetus is the simple rally cry of our Clean Water Campaign: Clean water is essential.
“I’ve always had an interest in the environment and protecting our natural resources, but I really became involved in the clean water effort once it clicked for me just how connected the issue of clean water is to so many other issues across the state,” she wrote. “Whether it’s water and wastewater infrastructure to support smart development in New Castle County, the needs of our agricultural industry downstate, the challenges our coastal communities face with flooding and sea level rise, or the inequities in our underserved communities statewide, so much falls under the banner of clean water in Delaware.”
While we don’t yet know how great a toll the pandemic has taken on state and local revenues, we are confident that there will be a significant investment in clean water and will be advocating for the funding of projects across Delaware’s watersheds. DelNature is the State Lead for two regional coalitions, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed and the Chesapeake Bay Choose Clean Water Coalition, and with their partnership we’ll continue to push for strong policies and the federal funding to help match state and local clean water investments. Additionally, we will be fighting for a significant portion of the funds to be provided in the form of grants, and not loans, to support clean water infrastructure investments in low-income and underserved communities.
Dr. Kara Odom Walker, then Secretary of the State Department of Health and Social Services, spoke to the importance of these investments at the press conference with Governor Carney earlier this year. “It’s not just about those communities who are well-organized and have the best and brightest engineers working on the projects,” she said. “We also have to make sure we’re looking to communities that don’t have the same resources. [The] state really does need to play a strong role in looking at those distressed and underserved communities as well.”
We asked Representative Longhurst what Delawareans can do to make 2021 the year for clean water funding. “Keep in contact with legislators from both sides of the aisle and make sure they hear you, especially the ones who represent you and your community.” Continuing, she wrote, “Share your personal stories about how water quality impacts your family. Stay engaged, spread the message to as many of your friend and neighbors as you can. You’ve made great strides in bringing the issue of clean water to the forefront – keep up the good work!”
The first part of her advice is the expected answer, but the second part of her advice, the story-telling component and engagement with friends and neighbors, is perhaps a more crucial component. It links back to the core of why DelNature started advocating for dedicated, sustainable clean water funding in the first place. All Delawareans deserve clean rivers and streams to live near, play in, and eat from. Together, as a community, we can make it happen.
The Clean Water for Delaware Act passed unanimously out of the House Natural Resources Committee in January 2021, and now it is on to the next step. Are you ready to join House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, DelNature, and our coalition partners get this legislation across the finish line? Take action today!