Podcast: It takes a coalition to maintain a river

[This podcast was originally published by CivicStory.]

Rivers often separate political entities. The Delaware River, for example, divides New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware at various points along the more than 400 miles it takes to reach the Atlantic Ocean from the Catskills. But the waters that flow to and through the river are a resource shared by communities on both banks, and that’s why the members of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed come together every year, to do whatever it takes to keep the waters clean for all.

This year the group’s annual forum was held in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Oct 16-17. Policymakers, technocrats, nonprofit leaders and educators met for two days of brainstorming on issues ranging from stream designation to cross-state policies and innovative partnerships, all with the common goal of protecting and restoring the waters that drain the Delaware River basin.

In a podcast interview with CivicStory, Coalition Director Sandra Meola explained why a collective approach is necessary to effect large-scale changes in an area this complex.

An interview with Coalition for the Delaware River executive director Sandra Meola

Meola reaffirmed that one of the coalition’s top priorities would be to ensure that diversity and equity are taken into account at all stages of planning. 

Equity was the subject of a keynote earlier in the day by Chanté Coleman, Director of Equity and Justice, National Wildlife Federation, who noted that the founding of the environmental movement “was so white and still is. People want to include diversity, equity and social justice and don’t know how.” 

The bipartisan component of the coalition’s work came up at an awards ceremony that recognized several municipalities for their efforts to improve their corners of the watershed. Art Merrill, who is the Town Supervisor of Colchester New York, introduced himself, with a smile, as an old white conservative Republican man, one with a lifelong affinity with land and water, who has always accepted the stewardship of those resources without question. “We have to focus on our commonality” he said, “the vitality of the Delaware depends on us to be adaptive and wise.”

Commonality was evident in the intensity of the roundtables that concluded this year’s forum. Grant La Rouche, Director of Conservation Partners, National Wildlife Federation, launched the brainstorming session with a reminder that last May, the governors of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware met on the issue, and committed to supporting the Delaware as the national model for cross-state collaboration for restoration and conservation. “If you want to drive change, you have to talk about how to fix those problems.”

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