The Delaware River has made a measureable recovery in the half-century since the authorization of the Delaware River Basin Commission Compact in 1961, EPA in 1970, and Federal Clean Water Act Amendments during the 1970s. A first-of-its-kind 1966 benefit-cost analysis by the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration concluded that a multi-million-dollar per year waste load abatement program to raise dissolved oxygen to boatable and fishable standards in the Delaware River would generate up to $350 million in annual benefits in $1964. While the Delaware has made one of the most extensive recoveries of any estuary in the world, scientists have called for raising the 1967 DO standard of 3.5 mg/l to a higher level of protection to provide for year-round protection of anadromous fish such as the recovering American shad and nearly extirpated Atlantic sturgeon. A more rigorous standard would also mitigate atmospheric warming that increases water temperatures, sea levels, and chloride levels that reduce DO saturation. This economic valuation research concludes that the benefits of improved water quality by increasing dissolved oxygen from existing criteria of 3.5 mg/l to a future DRBC year-round fishable standard of 5.0 mg/l in the Delaware River range from a low bound of $371 million to an upper bound of $1.1 billion annually.
Recreational boating provides the greatest benefits ($46-$334 million) followed by recreational fishing ($129-$202 million), agriculture ($8-$188 million), nonuse value ($76-$115 million), viewing/boating/fishing ($55-$68 million),bird watching ($15-$33 million), increased property value ($13-27 million), municipal water supply ($12-$24 million), commercial fishing ($0-$17 million), and navigation ($7-$16 million). Future research would be useful to more precisely measure nonuse benefits through a stated preference survey to measure public willingness to pay for improved water quality in the Delaware River watershed.
Gerald J. Kauffman, Director
University of Delaware
Water Resources Center