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DRBC, the Nation's 1st Federal-Interstate Compact Agency, Turns 53

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) was created 53 years ago today - October 27 - when concurrent compact legislation ratified by Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Congress became law. The passage of the Delaware River Basin Compact in 1961 marked the first time that the federal government and a group of states joined as equal partners in a river basin planning, development, and regulatory agency.

The Compact was progressive, creating a regional body with the force of law to oversee a unified approach to managing a river system without regard to political boundaries. It gave the DRBC broad powers to allocate water supply, protect water quality, regulate water withdrawals and discharges, develop water conservation initiatives, create flow management policy, and plan for present and future water resource needs.

The creation of the DRBC was described by President Kennedy as a "bold venture," a new governmental experiment put in place years before the nation's first Earth Day, the passage of the federal Clean Water Act, and the creation of the U.S. EPA. It was an idea based on the realization that interstate waters require a holistic, watershed approach to be managed properly; no one state or sector can effectively do it alone. What happens upstream affects downstream users, what happens on the land affects the water, what happens in one state affects another.

The DRBC was formed as a response to major water resource problems requiring regional solutions. These problems included water supply shortages, disputes over the apportionment of the basin's waters, poor water quality (especially in the tidal reaches of the river's urban centers), and the devastating flood of August 1955.

Over its 50+ year history, the DRBC has been the forum for the states and the federal government to collectively address these problems without needing to resort to the courts for lengthy, costly, conflict resolution. As such, the DRBC has been highly effective, bringing its members together to manage and improve the basin's water resources cooperatively. Key successes include major water quality initiatives and protections, drought management policy, and comprehensive watershed planning. Dissolved oxygen levels in the river's tidal reaches are now at levels that allow for migrating fish, as well as resident populations. The river's non-tidal section is under special protection status, keeping the clean water clean. The DRBC's drought management policy has allowed for multiple uses of the water resources, even in times of serious drought. The commission's Water Resources Plan for the Delaware River Basin just reached its ten-year milestone as the blueprint for planning in the watershed.

The DRBC remains as relevant today as when it was formed, a successful model for federal-state collaboration, whose approach to integrated management of the water resources of the Delaware River Basin is adaptive and based on sound science. Over 15 million people rely on the waters of the Delaware River Basin for their everyday needs, highlighting the importance of DRBC's work not only for current, but for future generations. There have been many accomplishments over the past 53 years, and the same progressive, collaborative framework that allowed for these achievements is needed in tackling today's problems and tomorrow's emerging issues. The DRBC looks forward to working with its many partners and stakeholders to meet the challenges facing the basin as, together, we preserve and protect the national treasure we call the Delaware River.