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Basin Information

The Delaware is the longest un-dammed river in the United States east of the Mississippi, extending 330 miles from the confluence of its East and West branches at Hancock, N.Y. to the mouth of the Delaware Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The river is fed by 216 tributaries, the largest being the Schuylkill and Lehigh Rivers in Pennsylvania. In all, the basin contains 13,539 square miles, draining parts of Pennsylvania (6,422 square miles or 50.3 percent of the basin's total land area); New Jersey (2,969 square miles, or 23.3%); New York (2,362 square miles, 18.5%); and Delaware (1,004 square miles, 7.9%). Included in the total area number is the 782 square-mile Delaware Bay, which lies roughly half in New Jersey and half in Delaware.

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Over 15 million people (approximately five percent of the nation's population) rely on the waters of the Delaware River Basin for drinking, agricultural, and industrial use, but the watershed drains only four-tenths of one percent of the total continental U.S. land area. The 15 million figure includes about seven million people in New York City and northern New Jersey who live outside the basin. New York City gets roughly half its water from three large reservoirs located on tributaries to the Delaware. The Delaware Bay is only a gas tank away for about 23 percent of the people living in the U.S.

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Three reaches of the Delaware have been included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. One section extends 73 miles from the confluence of the river's East and West branches at Hancock, N.Y. downstream to Milrift, Pa.; the second is a 40-mile stretch from just south of Port Jervis, N.Y. downstream to the Delaware Water Gap near Stroudsburg, Pa. Combined, these two river corridors take in 124,929 acres. The Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, signed into law on November 1, 2000, added a 38.9-mile section of the main stem Delaware (and about 28 miles of selected tributaries) to the national system, linking the Delaware Water Gap and Washington Crossing, Pa., just upstream of Trenton, N.J. Three-quarters of the non-tidal Delaware River is now included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Sections of the Maurice River in New Jersey (a Delaware Bay tributary) and the Musconetcong River in New Jersey (a Delaware River tributary), as well as the White Clay Creek in Pennsylvania and Delaware (which flows into the Christina River, a tributary to the Delaware) also have been included in the national system. According to the National Park Service's web site, the U.S. has 3.5 million miles of rivers, but only 12,598 river miles (just over one-quarter of one percent) are included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

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As a result of clean-up efforts in the Delaware River, shad and other fish species, as well as bald eagles, are increasing in number.

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The Delaware Estuary -- the Delaware Bay and tidal reach of the Delaware River -- has been included in the National Estuary Program, a project set up to protect estuarine systems of national significance.

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There are numerous economic benefits from the river. The Delaware River Port Complex (including docking facilities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware) is the largest freshwater port in the world. According to testimony submitted to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in 2005, the port complex generates $19 billion in annual economic activity. It is one of only 14 strategic ports in the nation transporting military supplies and equipment by vessel to support our troops overseas. The Delaware River and Bay is home to the third largest petrochemical port as well as five of the largest east coast refineries. Nearly 42 million gallons of crude oil are moved on the Delaware River on a daily basis. There are approximately 3,000 deep draft vessel arrivals each year and it is the largest receiving port in the United States for Very Large Crude Carriers (tank ships greater than 125,000 deadweight tons). It is the largest North American port for steel, paper, and meat imports as well as the largest importer of cocoa beans and fruit on the east coast. Over 65% of Chilean and other South American fruits imported into the United States arrive at terminal facilities in the tri-state port complex. Wilmington, Delaware is home to the largest U.S. banana importing port, handling over one million tons of this cargo annually from Central America. According to Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara, District Commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District, "The port is critical not only to the region, but also to the nation."

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