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Water Quality & Monitoring Programs
DRBC's Dr. Ron MacGillivray collects a water sample to monitor for PFCs. Photo by DRBC.

DRBC Water Quality Mandate

Article 5 of the Delaware River Basin Compact defines the Commission's water quality mandates and directs the DRBC to take the lead on water quality matters pertaining to the Basin by adopting regulations:

"...to control such future pollution and abate existing pollution, and to require such treatment of sewage, industrial or other waste....as may be required to protect the public health or to preserve the waters of the Basin for uses in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan." (Compact, §5.2)

The DRBC uses a multi-faceted strategy to water quality regulation that provides a rational approach to protecting and restoring water quality in the basin.

DRBC Water Quality Regulations

The Commission's first Water Quality Regulations (pdf 885 KB) were adopted in March 1967. They are divided into two main sections: Article 3 - Water Quality Standards for the Delaware River Basin and Article 4 - Application of Standards. 

In 1968, Stewart Udall, Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior from 1961-1969, said, "Only the Delaware among the nation's river basins is moving into high gear in its program to combat water pollution."

To this day, the DRBC's efforts to improve water quality remain rooted in the Delaware River Basin Compact's chief canon: that the waters and related resources of the basin are regional assets vested with local, state and national interests that all share joint responsibility to maintain and protect.

However, it is important to note that the work is far from complete, as parts of the river still are not "fishable and swimmable," which is the stated goal of the federal Clean Water Act. New technology enhances the DRBC's ability to detect, monitor, track and model pollution such as PCBs and contaminants of emerging concern in the river.

The Commission's policies, programs and abatement efforts must therefore adapt and evolve in order to continually improve the Basin's water quality for future generations.

Managing & Assessing Water Quality

DRBC's Water Quality Regulations, which have been updated and revised periodically, are part of the Commission's Water Code (pdf 1.3 MB) and are an important mechanism by which its members work together to manage, protect and improve the water resources of the Basin.

The regulations protect the Basin's waters by establishing criteria that specify what levels of individual parameters are appropriate to protect the river's designated uses - for example, aquatic life, drinking water, fish consumption and recreation - in the river's main stem water quality zones (pdf 3.2 MB) and also for the Basin in its entirety. Criteria have been established to protect both human health and aquatic life. 

DRBC's Role in Water Quality Management & Assessment

  • Establish or revise water quality standards, water quality criteria and designated uses for the mainstem Delaware River. Each Basin state's water quality regulations refer to or defer to DRBC for the mainstem.

  • Implement and enforce water quality criteria through DRBC docket approvals or administrative agreements.

  • Conduct monitoring and assessments to ensure that criteria are being met.

  • Lead impaired waters' recovery for the mainstem river and bay through the establishment of "pollution budgets" or waste allocations, which set interim and long term standards, goals and plans.

  • Ensure that the Commission's Special Protection Waters Antidegradation Program for the non-tidal Delaware River is working.

To evaluate how water quality criteria are being met and whether the designated uses are being protected, you must monitor and assess the collected data. The foundation of DRBC's monitoring programs is the tenet you can't manage what you don't measure

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