Delaware Public Media

Clean water fight heads to General Assembly

Apr 24, 2017

After years of work, backers of a clean water initiative will soon put their plan before state lawmakers, which could mean a new statewide tax levied on individuals and businesses alike.

More than 90 percent of First State waterways are so badly polluted that you can’t swim in them or they’re too toxic to support healthy aquatic life.

In an effort to change that, state Sen. Bryan Townsend (D-Newark), Rep. Michael Mulroony (D-Newark) and others want to dedicate tens of millions of dollars each year to plug perennial flooding problems and clean up rivers and streams.

A draft bill would charge individuals up to $40 a year. Married couples filing jointly would pay $80 and businesses could owe up to a few hundred dollars based on the kinds of licenses they hold.

Townsend says the state needs to make up for years of under investing in its infrastructure to help people coping with these problems on a regular basis.

“We’re already seeing the floods. You have chronic flooding in Ocean View and [Bethany Beach], for example. You have chronic flooding along Route 1, you have chronic flooding along Route 9, so we’ve kind of somehow allowed ourselves to get used to these avoidable problems,” he said.

Top-level cabinet members would oversee the money, which would be legally bound to pay for clean water projects.

It's estimated the new fee will raise about $20 million per year. Other matching grants and loans could raise that total to about $50 million, Townsend said.

He notes these investments will help Delaware’s economy in the long run.

“We need our waterways to be clean and clear. As a tourism state, as an agriculture state, we need to make sure we have things in place so we can continue to be a leader in agriculture across the country and across the world while also maintaining the quality of our waterways.”

In the past, opponents have acknowledged Delaware's water woes, but said any cleanup efforts should be paid for within the state's current budget.

The bill is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks.