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DRBC Votes To Protect Lower Delaware Water Quality

For Immediate Release

July 17, 2008

(WEST TRENTON, N.J.) -- Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) Executive Director Carol R. Collier announced that the commissioners on July 16 permanently designated the Lower Delaware as Significant Resource Waters under DRBC's Special Protection Waters (SPW) program.

The unanimous action taken at the commission's public business meeting establishes numeric values for existing water quality in the 76-mile-long stretch of river extending from the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area downstream to the head of tide at Trenton, N.J.  It also expands coverage of the DRBC's SPW anti-degradation regulations to include the entire 197-mile non-tidal Delaware River from Hancock, N.Y. south to Trenton.

"This permanent designation clearly demonstrates the DRBC's long-term objective of keeping our clean water clean by ensuring that future discharges to the Lower Delaware will have no measurable change on existing high water quality," Collier said.  "We believe this action, along with the previous SPW designations, establishes the longest stretch of anti-degradation policy on any river in the nation."

The SPW program is designed to prevent degradation in streams and rivers considered to have exceptionally high scenic, recreational, ecological, and/or water supply values through stricter control of wastewater discharges and reporting requirements.  The initial SPW regulations adopted in 1992 focused on controlling point (or end-of-pipe) sources of pollution to maintain existing high water quality.  In 1994, the regulations were amended to add language dealing with the complex issue of non-point source pollutants that are found in runoff, especially after heavy rains.

The July 16 rulemaking decision has been years in the making, beginning with the efforts leading up to President Bill Clinton signing legislation into law adding key segments of the Lower Delaware and selected tributaries to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in November 2000.  This federal designation was followed in April 2001 with a petition from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network to classify the Lower Delaware as Special Protection Waters.  Extensive data were collected from 2000 through 2004, which confirmed that existing water quality in this stretch of river exceeded most state and federal standards, and an eligibility report was issued by DRBC in August 2004.

The Lower Delaware has been temporarily classified as Significant Resource Waters by DRBC since January 2005, making it subject to all SPW regulations except those that stipulate the use of numeric values for existing water quality.  The temporary designation was made pending a determination of the numeric values, evaluation of options for implementing the rule, consideration of rule clarifications needed to ensure the program's uniform application in all areas of the basin that drain to SPW, and rulemaking to adopt the amendments to DRBC's Water Quality Regulations that are needed to fully implement the program.

The notice of proposed rulemaking leading up to the July 16, 2008 action was published September 28, 2007 on the commission's web site, and appeared in federal and state registers in early October 2007.  Two informational meetings took place on October 25 in Stockton, N.J. and on November 1 in Easton, Pa.  A public hearing followed on December 4 at the DRBC’s headquarters in West Trenton, N.J. and written public comments were accepted through December 6.

As adopted, the rule requires new or expanding facilities to demonstrate that their discharges will not cause measurable change to existing water quality.  In response to concerns raised during the public comment period, the adopted rulemaking clarified language, in particular relating to the circumstances under which wastewater facilities must employ nondischarge alternatives or natural treatment technologies and how they must demonstrate that they will cause no measurable change.  It was noted at the July 16 meeting that the clarifications were consistent with the overall goal of "no measurable change except to natural conditions" and with provisions applicable to already designated SPW areas upstream of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

The commission plans to hold informational workshops explaining the rulemaking later this year, but the dates and locations have yet to be determined.

The DRBC was formed in 1961 by compact among the four basin states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) and the federal government.  Its members include the four governors and a federal representative appointed by the president.  The creation of the commission marked the first time in our nation's history that the federal government and a group of states joined together as equal partners in a river basin planning, development, and regulatory agency.

Additional SPW information is available on the commission's web site at www.drbc.net.

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Kate O'Hara, (609) 883-9500 ext. 205

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