Delaware prioritizes access to safe, clean water

August 8, 2023

Water is everywhere, and almost everything we do comes back to it in some way. Clean water is essential to our health, to our economy, to our recreation. In short, our quality of life depends on having an ample supply of safe, clean water.

For August’s National Water Quality Month, I want to highlight some of the ways water matters in our lives and how the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control ensures clean water for Delawareans now and for years to come.

Two of DNREC’s eight divisions explicitly focus on water, and for many of the others water is an important factor in their mission, but the subject goes beyond DNREC. Our agency partners with the Office of Drinking Water within the Department of Health and Social Services, which oversees tap water, while we focus on ground and surface water. That multi-agency approach is a sign of just how valuable and ubiquitous water is in our lives.

Many of us likely take ample supplies of clean water for granted, but there need to be continuous efforts and vigilance to ensure our groundwater and surface water are clean and protected.

In Delaware, the majority of drinking water comes from groundwater, rather than streams and other bodies of water. The same aquifer that provides drinking water for most of the state is heavily impacted by wastewater, and land-use practices like farming and development.

That means you should be careful when disposing of waste: Just as you wouldn’t dump waste in a stream, you shouldn’t, for instance, let your motor oil run off into the grass, where it can seep into groundwater.

Be a smart consumer, don’t be wasteful, and also get your water tested if you can – something recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those relying on wells can get test kits from the state’s Division of Public Health for $4 to check for chemicals and bacteria in their water. 

Public water systems are required to provide consumer confidence reports detailing water quality, so if you’re on public water, you can look up contaminant levels and get an idea of what you’re ingesting. 

But water is so much more than just what we drink and cook with. It’s vital to our economy, supporting tens of thousands of jobs, and that is where surface water plays a key role. 

According to research published by the Delaware Tourism Office, the tourism industry generated $4 billion for the state’s gross domestic product in 2021. Much of that came from our beautiful beach communities along the Delaware Bay, Inland Bays, and Atlantic Ocean. 

Per the same findings, 67% of our visitors took part in outdoor activities here. Many of those doubtless engaged in recreational activities involving water, such as boating and fishing.

When was the last time you took part in an activity that’s dependent on water? Probably quite recently. Just consider our award-winning state parks, which draw more than 5 million people every year. Absent clean water, that number would be much smaller.

While we have been focused on many of the same pollutants for the last generation, we now are also focused on new and emerging contaminants. With the discovery of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as “forever chemicals” in the water, our challenges have become greater. These contaminants were used in myriad products like stain-resistant fabrics, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foam for decades before their harmful effects were known. 

A lot is still unknown about PFAS, but I am proud to say DNREC continues to study and make investments to address this issue. Our agency has implemented a response plan that includes alternate sources of drinking water for affected communities where high concentrations of PFAS have gotten into the water. Importantly, working with DHSS, we’ve treated public drinking water to meet federal and state standards.

Our Watershed Approach to Toxics Assessment and Restoration program sampled waterways around the state last year to measure concentrations of PFAS, with the aim of identifying sources of contamination and prioritizing the watersheds most impacted by these chemicals. 

We’re investing tens of millions of dollars, both state and federal money, in clean water. Much of that is directed to historically underserved communities through Gov. Carney’s Clean Water Initiative for Underserved Communities, which is now part of Delaware’s Clean Water Trust, where the needs are greatest. President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is directing millions to underserved communities in Delaware which is significant to support the initiative moving forward. This environmental justice component is one of the most critical things we can do for our state.

We have a duty to secure supplies of clean water for our children and grandchildren. At DNREC, almost everything we do revolves around protecting the environment to ensure we can pass it along to our future generations. That’s why I’m so proud of the work we’re doing on clean water.

We’re all connected to water. Let’s take care of it. 

Shawn M. Garvin is secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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