New Jersey’s Congressman Van Drew, Delaware’s Congressional Delegation, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, and Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) are celebrating $181,501 in federal funds recently awarded as part of the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund.
The grant will support PDE’s development of the Salt Marsh Decision-Support Tool, a first-of-its-kind digital tool that analyzes data to improve the health of salt marshes. Ultimately, the tool will allow for data-based conservation and restoration to protect coastal communities in the Delaware Estuary and Bay from the impacts of climate change, including New Jersey’s Camden, Burlington, Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem, and Cape May Counties; and Delaware’s New Castle, Kent, and Sussex Counties.
“The Delaware River Basin’s natural environment is a vital resource to the First State and its neighbors, and I’m excited that the latest round of Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund grants will further invest in the basin’s preservation,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper (DE), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “I’m proud to have championed the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act with Senator Chris Coons and then Congressman John Carney, as it will ensure the basin gets the investment it needs so Delawareans can enjoy its benefits for generations to come.”
The Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund supports on-the-ground land and water projects that conserve and restore fish and wildlife habitat, improve and maintain water quality, sustain and enhance water management and reduce flood damage, and improve recreational opportunities and public access in the Delaware River Basin.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced the projects receiving $4.1 million in grants from fiscal year 2019 appropriations to the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund, which included PDE’s grant.
“This Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund grant will allow us to continue to develop the Salt Marsh Decision-Support Tool, which integrates the major functional attributes of salt marshes using standardized data streams, so individuals can perform consistent, scientifically defensible site assessments of the current and future health of salt marshes in New Jersey and Delaware,” said Dr. Joshua Moody, Restoration Programs Manager at Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. “Currently, there are many questions regarding how to identify site-specific deficiencies and pair them with appropriate tactics. The Decision-Support Tool will allow regulators, scientists, and academia to determine the presence and types of functional deficiencies in a specific area that then guides the user in pairing the appropriate tactic to address the underlying issue.”
The National Climate Assessment of the United States explains that it is likely sea-level will rise between 1 to 4.3 feet by 2100, compared to the year 2000, which will reduce coastline, exacerbate flooding, and cause property damage.
However, because salt marshes trap nutrients and sediment, and build organic matter to form peat, they can grow to keep pace with the rising ocean and can defend against sea-level rise. Delaware Bay marshes also slow the velocity of waves before they reach land to mitigate storm surges and reduce coastal erosion.
“The Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund brings much-needed funding and technical support for restoration and conservation projects to Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York; and moves us toward a long-term vision for the watershed,” added U.S. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-At large). “As part of the Fiscal Year 2019 round of funding, I’m pleased that the Delaware Bay’s salt marshes are being studied and invested in, as they are the first line of defense against storm surges that can lead to disaster on land. Our state’s salt marshes must also be protected as both habitat and a food source for a wide variety of wildlife, such as crabs, ducks, eels, and flounders.”
The Salt Marsh Decision-Support Tool will be utilized by regulators, scientists, and academia to determine issues impacting a salt marsh and to identify tactics to employ for stabilizing and restoring the shoreline. In addition to assessing the state of current conditions, Salt Marsh Decision-Support Tool will analyze data to make future predictions about salt marsh health and sea-level rise caused by climate change in portions of New Jersey and Delaware.
“As a coastal state, New Jersey has begun to see the impacts of climate change on our shores, making this Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund grant all the timelier. Partnership for the Delaware Estuary will be able to gather data needed to safeguard salt marshes in the Delaware Bay, which will result in shorelines protected from erosion since marshes buffer waves and trap sediments. Salt marshes also slow flooding by absorbing rainwater and protect Delaware River water quality by filtering stormwater runoff,” stated U.S. Representative Jeff Van Drew (NJ-2).
Currently, there are plans to release a preliminary version of the Salt Marsh Decision-Support Tool in early 2020, and PDE will continue to fine tune the program by utilizing work groups of public and private sector scientists and researchers. PDE will then begin field testing and install new monitoring stations in New Jersey and Delaware between 2020 and 2021 in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
“The Delaware River Watershed is on its way to becoming cleaner as a result of continued investment in projects to protect water quality and ecosystems,” said U.S. Senator Chris Coons (DE). “As a proud advocate for the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund, I am excited that we were able to secure funding for the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed to establish new tools to monitor and evaluate the health of salt marshes along the Delaware Bay. I am encouraged to see these funds coming to organizations doing critical work in Delaware.”
The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed and partners aim to increase funding for the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund from $6 million to $10 million in fiscal year 2020 to better meet the needs of member organizations’ restoration and conservation projects. This summer, the House Interior Appropriations Committee approved the $10 million amount, while the Senate Interior Appropriations bill announced in late September included only $6.5 million.
“Advocating for the passage of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act and subsequent Delaware Watershed Conservation Funds has been a top priority for the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed since our founding in 2012,” stated Sandra Meola, Director for the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “We’re thrilled that Coalition member Partnership for the Delaware Estuary received a grant to continue their critical work and are immensely grateful to the Congressional champions who understand the importance the Delaware River’s ecosystems.”
Salt marshes are a transitional habitat between the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, where saltwater regularly floods the bay and brings nutrients to stimulate plant growth. Living within salt marshes are invertebrates including shrimp, crabs, turtles, anemones, and snails as well as fish such as sticklebacks, silversides, eels, and flounders. Salt marshes are essential breeding, feeding, and overwintering grounds for ducks, geese, and other aquatic birds. Marshes also provide food for larger fish that the fishing industry relies upon.
The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed is a network of 149 non-governmental organizations located in NY, NJ, PA, and DE and are dedicated to protecting and restoring the natural resources of the Delaware River Basin. For more information, visit www.DelRiverWatershed.org.
The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, host of the Delaware Estuary Program, leads science-based and collaborative efforts to improve the tidal Delaware River and Bay, which spans Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. For more information, visit www.DelawareEstuary.org.