Delaware • New Jersey • Pennsylvania
New York • United States of America
A breakthrough in water resources management occurred in 1961 when President Kennedy and the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York for the first time signed concurrent compact legislation into law creating a regional body with the force of law to oversee a unified approach to managing a river system without regard to political boundaries.
The members of this regional body - the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) - include the four basin state governors and the Division Engineer, North Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who serves as the federal representative.
When the DRBC was created, some 43 state agencies, 14 interstate agencies, and 19 federal agencies exercised a multiplicity of splintered powers and duties within the watershed, which stretches 330 miles from the Delaware River's headwaters near Hancock, N. Y., to the mouth of the Delaware Bay.
The Compact's signing marked the first time since the nation's birth that the federal government and a group of states joined together as equal partners in a river basin planning, development, and regulatory agency.
The five members appoint alternate commissioners, with the governors selecting high-ranking officials from their state environmental agencies. Each commissioner has one vote of equal power, with a majority vote needed to decide most issues. Exceptions are votes to apportion among the signatory parties amounts required to support the current expense budget and votes to declare a state of emergency resulting from a drought or catastrophe, which require unanimity.
Commission programs include water quality protection, water supply allocation, regulatory review (permitting), water conservation initiatives, watershed planning, drought management, flood loss reduction, and recreation.
The DRBC is funded by the signatory parties, project review fees, water use charges, and fines, as well as federal, state, and private grants.
Annual elections are held for commission chair, vice chair, and second vice chair, based on a rotation of the five signatory parties. Federal Representative Brigadier General William Graham is currently serving as chair for the July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 term. The other commission members are Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (vice chair), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (second vice chair), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Delaware Governor Jack Markell.
The commission holds business meetings and hearings on policy matters and water resource projects under regulatory review. These sessions, along with meetings of the commission's various advisory committees, are open to the public.
The fact that five separate governmental bodies with their own sovereign powers can successfully work together on an equal footing in managing a common resource has caught the eye of other river managers not only in this country, but around the world. In recent years, commission representatives have been invited to Australia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria to tell the DRBC story and offer assistance. Officials from those countries also visited the commission's offices in West Trenton, N.J., as have delegations from Sri Lanka, the People's Republic of China, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Jordan, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, Uruguay, India, and Japan, among others.