The Delaware River Basin Commission, the agency that oversees the water supply for more than 15 million people in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware has a new director. In recent years the DRBC has found itself in the eye of the storm over natural gas drilling in eastern Pennsylvania.
The new executive director, Steve Tambini, is an environmental engineer who comes from the water utility sector. His recent gig was with Pennsylvania American Water, and he says he’s spent his 30-year career as a water supply engineer primarily in New York and New Jersey. Tambini says his role at the DRBC is to focus on planning to insure supply meets demand.
“To make sure that those in the basin are using the water efficiently, so it’s not just a matter of building new supplies but it’s also a matter of taking a hard look at how water is being used throughout the basin,” said Tambini. “Conservation is also a critical part of our planning.”
Tambini says water quality is also a matter of planning. “Planning comes first,” he said. “Making sure we have good strong standards for water quality and making sure we do adequate planning is first and foremost.
But that planning may be more difficult with less money. Tambini begins the job with a budget that’s $500,000 less than expected. That’s because Pennsylvania recently slashed their payment to the multi-state agency in half.
Although the Corbett Administration denies it, some say the cut was payback for maintaining a moratorium on gas-drilling in the basin.
The DRBC’s former director Carol Collier says the Corbett Administration didn’t cut the budgets of any other river basin commission.
“That was the most disturbing point,” said Collier. “It seemed to be targeted at the DRBC and not the other river basin commissions.”
The de-facto moratorium imposed by the DRBC prevents drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania’s Wayne and Pike counties, as well as parts of southern New York, until the DRBC establishes its own regulations. The Commission drafted new rules but just days before they would have been put up for a vote in November 2011, Delaware announced it would reject them. New York had also sought more time while hammering out its own state rules.
In the meantime, the Corbett Administration has been unsuccessful in its attempts to lift the moratorium. It’s unclear where the federal government stands on the proposed rules.
Collier says the decreased funding will hurt the Commission’s ability to do its job managing and protecting drinking water.
“And just when you look at the whole sea level rise concern and the impact on Philadelphia and New Jersey drinking water supplies,” said Collier. ”More intense storms as we’ve seen already, and I’m sure there will be more droughts, so there’s big tasks in front of the organization.”
The Commission is made up of representatives from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and the federal government. While other states have cut funding to the Commission over the years, Pennsylvania has been a reliable funder. It’s been 18 years since the federal government contributed its full share of funding.