MWA Policy Update
Both Congress and the State have been busy and productive during COVID-19. However, as state revenues have decreased due to the pandemic, some impacts are being felt among our public sector partners. Here are some brief updates:
Congressional funding for Fiscal Year 2021. The House Interior Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee approved their funding bill for their next fiscal year (October 2020 - September 2021). Our individual and collective requests were heard and are reflected in this bill. Its next step is to go to a vote with the full House. The Senate has not yet released its bill. While there is overall uncertainty about federal funding levels going forward, in an election year, Congress sometimes decides to get these bills done to clear their plates prior to the November elections. They may pass an extension to the current funding levels and tackle thorny issues in the “lame duck” period after the election. Either way, it will be a few months before we know the final funding level.
Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers. This is a priority for MWA, the Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers Coalition, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, and the new National Wild and Scenic Rivers Coalition. The Committee’s recommended funding level is $3,925,000 for Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers for FY2021, which is an $874,000 increase (up 22%) from FY2020. The $874,000 increase was justified by the traditional full funding requests for the Upper Delaware, Musconetcong, Great Egg, and Lamprey Rivers that were above the equal share allotment of $220,000 per river for FY2020.
Delaware River Basin Restoration Program Fund. This is a priority for MWA and the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. The Committee recommended funding at the requested $10 million, which is a $300,000 increase (up 3%) above FY2020. In FY2019, funding demand for this program was twice the available funding amount.
Warren Glen Dam Removal. This is a priority for MWA and was mentioned in the US Fish and Wildlife Service budget for continued support via the National Fish Passage Program. In FY2019, Congress authorized a feasibility study for the dam’s removal and aquatic habitat restoration.
NJDEP Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Map and Resources. Following last year’s blue-green algae blooms, NJDEP has launched new public information, including maps, management actions, and other information here. The online map provides real time monitoring data for the Musconetcong Watershed’s largest lake, Lake Hopatcong. The good news is that no HABs are present in Lake Hopatcong, as of June 21st.
New NJDEP Climate Change Report. If you are interested in learning more about how climate change could affect our state, including changes in temperature, rain fall patterns, and flooding, the newly released report features scientific data on these and other trends. This is part of a broader initiative of DEP Commissioner McCabe, and includes information for individuals and businesses to Take Action, and a review of regulations, including those that affect water quality protections statewide. Recently, the New York Times reviewed new flood risk maps, which include data reflecting a decades-long increase in rainfall in our region. For the Musconetcong watershed, flooding like we saw from Hurricane Irene will become more common. You can type in your own address and check it out here. For many areas of the Musconetcong River, the river’s flooding extent is beyond the 300-foot riparian zone (required vegetation buffer) indicated in the Flood Hazard Area Act.
State Budget Revenue Shortfalls. NJDEP has furloughed some staff at the Division of Fish and Wildlife. This has resulted in the closure of some recreational infrastructure at Wildlife Management Areas, including the Riegelsville boat ramp on the Delaware River, which is the take-out point for paddling trips on the lower portion of the Musconetcong River. State universities are also introducing furloughs, which will affect some of our research partners.
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