Happy Birthday DRBC! 59 Years On & Still Going Strong

Happy Birthday DRBC! 59 Years On & Still Going Strong

White House ceremonial signing of the Delaware River Basin Compact, November 2, 1961 
White House ceremonial signing of the Delaware River
Basin Compact, November 2, 1961.

On October 27, 1961, the Delaware River Basin Compact became law, forming the Delaware River Basin Commission. The DRBC was the country’s first Federal/Interstate basin-scale water resources agency, created to manage, protect and improve the water resources of the Delaware River Basin without regard to political boundaries. The region was experiencing severe pollution, especially in the river’s urban tidewaters, that required collaboration to address; other issues facing the Basin were serious flooding that occurred in August 1955 and ongoing concerns over water supply.

At a ceremonial signing event at the White House on November 2, 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, “We are glad to join with Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania in this bold venture. The task set for the Commission will not be easy to achieve, but we are confident that the cooperation that has brought forth this Compact will endure, and that working together real progress can be made for the people of the Basin.”

The DRBC was created nine years before the nation’s first Earth Day and 11 years before the adoption of the Clean Water Act. This unique agency – whose members are the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and the Commander of the United States. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division – has been working ever since. While Commission programs include water quality protection, water supply allocation, regulatory review, water conservation initiatives, watershed planning, drought management, flood loss reduction, education/outreach and recreation, they fall largely into two categories: ensuring clean and healthy water resources (quality) and a sustainable and adequate supply of water (flow).

Working with other agencies, partners and stakeholders in the Basin, DRBC leads a collaborative effort to clean up the river’s heavily polluted waters, as well as protects water quality where it is better than existing standards. DRBC’s role in Basin-wide drought operations was highlighted during the 1960s drought of record; the Commission remains a leader in flow and drought management to this day.

The efforts of DRBC and its small staff of engineers, planners and scientists are notable. Fish populations, like the shad, are recovering. Water supplies are managed effectively, even when Mother Nature provides little precipitation. Economic development and recreational tourism are booming along the Delaware River and its tributaries, thanks to improved water quality. People are reconnecting with the river in ways never thought possible nearly 60 years ago.

Whenever you stand on one bank of the Delaware River, you are always looking across at another state. It is an interstate river its entire length, and its watershed encompasses land in four states and serves a population over 13 million people. While much has changed since 1961, what remains the same is the need for coordinated water resource management across the entire Delaware River Basin.

DRBC continues to recognize the advantages of working across political boundaries to make the Delaware River Basin the national model for sustainable economic development, drinkable clean water, healthy fish and wildlife populations, outdoor recreation and nature-based climate resilience. Through science, regulation, investment, cooperation and hard work, one of the most polluted waterways in the nation is recovering and thriving. 

As a result, we take considerable pride in what we have accomplished, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Basin community to address future water resource challenges. 

Happy Anniversary DRBC!


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