Delaware Memorial Bridge, Delaware River
Delaware Memorial Bridge, Delaware River

Delaware River

2020 River of the Year

A River Renewed


Seventy-five years ago, the Delaware River was choked with sewage and industrial pollution. People were sickened by the smell. Parts of the river were dead zones, unable to support fish and other aquatic life. The river was slated to be carved up by dams for flood control and water supply, and the natural character of the Delaware was in danger of being lost forever.

Port Jervis, Delaware River

Delaware River near Port Jervis, NY

Today, the Delaware River is on the mend and thriving. Through federal safeguards, state action and local initiative, the quality of waters in the Delaware have dramatically improved, fish and wildlife have returned in tremendous numbers, and the mainstem of the Delaware remains the longest free-flowing river in the eastern United States, with the most extensive National Wild and Scenic River protection of any watershed in the country. Today, communities along the Delaware River are setting a national example of river stewardship.

But, important work remains to be done. Continued action is critical to address ongoing challenges, such as aging water infrastructure, urban development and climate change. Severe storms, which occur with increasing frequency due to climate change, threaten drinking water intakes with saltwater intrusion and can cause sewage overflows at ill-prepared water treatment plants.

Philadelphia, PA -- along the Delaware River

Philadelphia, PA — along the Delaware River

Critical funding and additional restoration and protection projects are necessary to support the health of the river and its communities:

  • Congress must defend against rollbacks to the Clean Water Act to protect the Delaware and its tributaries, wetlands and small streams. In the basin, the Clean Water Act must be implemented to support “fishable, swimmable” uses.
  • The Delaware River Basin Commission, partner states and federal agencies must implement the Flexible Flow Management Plan to protect the headwaters while serving communities and water needs downstream.
  • Congress must continue to provide federal funding for regional and state programs, including:
    • NOAA’s Community-Based Restoration Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fish Passage Program, which have been integral in restoring migratory fish populations and keeping rivers in the watershed free-flowing.
    • The Delaware River Conservation Fund and the Delaware River Restoration Fund, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the result of Congress’s commitment to the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act, which support projects to benefit habitat and water quality.
    • The Clean Water Act’s State Revolving Funds, which allow states to support municipal and local projects to improve water quality and water infrastructure. These funds must continue to include a Green Project Reserve for natural infrastructure priorities. Innovative investment strategies must require planning for climate resiliency and ensure resources are allocated equitably and effectively.

With these actions, we will ensure the Delaware River continues to shine as a national example for clean water and river health, as well as an economic and recreational asset to the millions of people who call this remarkable river home.