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Happy Birthday DRBC: 62 Years of Managing, Protecting & Improving Our Shared Water Resources
President Kennedy hosted Basin state governors for a ceremonial signing of the Delaware River Basin Compact on Nov. 2, 1961.
President Kennedy hosted Basin state governors and
others for a
ceremonial signing of the Delaware River
Compact on Nov. 2, 1961.
Click for larger image.

When the Delaware River Basin Compact became law in the four Basin states and the U.S. 62 years ago today, forming the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a first of its kind partnership was created.

The Basin states of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and the federal government recognized that the Delaware River Basin was facing serious problems - poor water quality, major flooding and challenges to water rights - that required them to exercise their sovereignty jointly to improve. By forming the DRBC, these five parties came together to manage an interstate watershed without regard to political boundaries.

The DRBC's responsibilities include managing the water resources of the Basin for diverse uses such as drinking water, sanitation, industry, recreation and fisheries. We also coordinate flood loss reduction, manage streamflow during drought periods, help prevent excessive salinity to support drinking water providers, industry, power utilities and refineries and protect and improve water quality. In essence, our mission is to ensure an adequate and sustainable supply of clean water for all users in the Basin.

Much has been accomplished since 1961.

  • Water quality in the Delaware River Estuary has experienced significant revitalization due to the DRBC's scientific and regulatory initiatives, combined with federal and state financial resources and mandates under the Clean Water Act and state laws, as well as changes in industrial, agricultural and municipal practices that improved the treatment of wastewater. Water quality in the non-tidal river is better than the criteria, managed by the DRBC's Special Protection Waters Program.

  • While the flood of August 1955, which helped lead to the creation of the DRBC, remains the flood of record, the region still routinely experiences flooding, sometimes serious, and the DRBC helps coordinate information sharing and supports flood loss reduction efforts across the Basin.

  • The region experienced its drought of record in the 1960s, soon after the DRBC was formed. The region still experiences droughts, and DRBC staff expertise in flow and drought management has helped ensure that during these dry times there is enough water in the river to meet all users' needs.

Today, the DRBC's work is as important as it was 62 years ago.

  • Staff continues to work on water quality improvements to ensure the waters of the Basin are clean enough for drinking water, industrial and agricultural needs, as well as for recreation and aquatic life. The DRBC's scientific and engineering expertise has led the effort to further improve dissolved oxygen levels in the Delaware River Estuary, and staff is currently working with its state and federal co-regulators on water quality criteria updates and implementation. Staff is also working on monitoring efforts for PFAS and other emerging contaminants, bacteria, chlorides (salt) and microplastics.

  • DRBC staff continues its work in flow and drought management and is also looking at how climate change impacts of increased air temperature, changes in precipitation patterns and sea level rise will affect water flow and supply in the Basin.

  • The Commission's regulatory programs continue to be robust, helping ensure that large water withdrawals of Basin waters and wastewater discharges to Basin waters are properly reviewed before approval and properly managed once approved.

  • The DRBC continues to be a leader in managing water supplies in the Basin. Staff have identified water use trends in the Basin to help plan for future water needs. In addition to a comprehensive water conservation program, staff also implement a water audit program, helping water suppliers identify and remediate leaks within their distribution systems.

  • And, the DRBC recognizes and supports diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and belonging (DEIJB) and is working to improve its community engagement efforts, understanding that our work is stronger when diverse voices are heard and included, so all of the Basin's water users share equally in the benefits and stewardship of our shared water resources.

The DRBC's mission to sustainably manage, protect and improve the water resources of the Delaware River Basin, on which over 14 million people and our region’s economy depend, has not changed since 1961. The Commission enables the four Basin states and the federal government to accomplish together what none could achieve working alone, developing sound science for shared water resource management in order to meet immediate and long-range needs. The work is not done, and we look forward to continuing our efforts in partnership with our members, other federal and state partners, the regulated community, and all stakeholders in the Basin, to ensure a clean, sustainable water supply for generations to come.

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