Delaware lawmakers are proposing to establish a state trust fund to coordinate and manage financial resources for clean water initiatives.
Democratic Gov. John Carney signaled his support for the initiative Tuesday by announcing that he would propose $50 million in next year's capital budget for wastewater, stormwater, drainage and drinking water infrastructure needs.
Officials say the $50 million could leverage tens of millions in federal clean water loans. The funding would be in addition to $20 million set aside for clean water programs in the current year's budget, which officials hope will leverage an equal amount of federal funding.
According to legislation filed Tuesday, the trust would be overseen by a committee of five cabinet officials and the two co-chairs of the legislature's capital budget committee. The oversight committee would be charged with issuing annual reports and an annually updated strategic plan outlining water quality goals, priorities and spending recommendations.
The oversight committee would receive technical assistance and advice from the state Water Infrastructure Advisory Council and conservation districts in each of Delaware's three counties.
Despite decades of water quality improvement studies and efforts, more than 90% of Delaware's waterways are impaired, according to a 2017 report by a task force created by the General Assembly in 2015.
The report found that poor water quality is attributable largely to excess nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into waterways from agriculture practices, stormwater runoff and wastewater discharges, but that toxic pollutants from industrial activities also were a problem.
"It depends on where you are," Carney said, noting that wastewater and industrial facilities in neighboring states are contributing to water pollution problems in northern Delaware.
"If you're in rural Sussex County, you have a history of agricultural practices that have meant significant nutrient loadings which takes time to wash out," he said.
The 2017 report found that there was an annual shortage of $100 million in funding for water quality programs, while sponsors of legislation that was substituted by Tuesday's bill noted that more than $500 million in water and wastewater system upgrades are needed statewide over the next five years.
According to the bill, 377 bodies of water in Delaware are impaired by excess nutrients, low dissolved oxygen, toxins and bacteria that negatively affect human and aquatic life.
Senate President Pro Tem David McBride, D-New Castle, said now is the time to act, entering a third consecutive year with budget surpluses.
"No community in Delaware should live in fear of polluted water and failing waterway systems. Yet, across our great state, hundreds of our residents must be leery of the water they drink and the fish they catch," McBride said.
"Our vulnerable communities simply cannot wait any longer," he said.