News Feature | March 26, 2014

Potential Water Tax Could Pay For Infrastructure Updates In Delaware

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Delaware Governor Jack Markell proposed a new tax this month aimed at cleaning up the waterways and improving water and wastewater infrastructure. 

Markell, a Democrat, called for "an $800 million program to clean Delaware waterways, curb stormwater runoff and flooding, and protect drinking water, suggesting a statewide tax that would cost most homeowners $45 a year, and more borrowing to pay for the effort," Delaware's News Journal reported

"Somebody has to do this," Markell said in the report. "We have a fundamental responsibility, I believe, to leave the next generation cleaner water – water you can fish in, water you can swim in, not as many problems with drinking water, not as many problems with stormwater and all that flooding."

Water infrastructure would receive funding under the proposed plan. "Markell said about 30 percent of the revenues from [new fees] would go to wasterwater/drinking water upgrades, while stormwater upgrades would also get 30 percent. The remaining money would go to conservation and agriculture projects (15 percent); toxics removal, site cleanup and stream restoration (20 percent); and industrial upgrades (5 percent)," the Cape Gazette reported

Under the existing system, the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loan programs "have about $30 million annually available to fund wastewater and drinking water projects, which the governor said was not nearly enough to finance many of the critical projects," the report said. 

The additional water infrastructure funding would "help finance these projects through a combination of low or no-interest loans, affordability grants, credit enhancements, matches for federal grants, and leveraged private financing, all of which will reduce the cost of constructing clean water projects for municipalities and other entities," the report said. 

Along with the tax proposal, new annual fees would be levied under Markell's plan.

"Owners of multifamily, commercial and industrial properties also would pay annual fees on a sliding scale, capped at $25,000, to help fund the administration's initiative, which calls for cleaning up Delaware's waterways within a generation," The Republic reported

"This is an ambitious goal, but we can do it if we have the essential resources," Markell said in the report. 

Delaware has major struggles with water pollution. "From restrictions on eating fish caught in Delaware waters or a warning against swimming in lakes and rivers in the state, there's no denying Delaware's water is dirty," News Works reported

"[It's] unacceptable, and it's embarrassing," Markell said in the report. "Virtually none of Delaware's waterways meet the water quality standards for their uses."

Currently, "94 percent of rivers don’t support healthy fish and aquatic life and 86 percent aren’t safe to swim in," WDDE, Delaware's NPR news station, reported.  

“Nobody could say, ‘That’s the kind of place that I want to be,’” Markell said in the report. “Nobody could say, ‘That’s the kind of place that tourists would want to come,’ unless we make the improvements, and so this is what we [have to] do.”

Not everyone loves the plan. For instance, Delaware Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, questioned why this proposal is coming now. 

"I think it's a bad time," he said in the News Journal. Along with the proposed gas tax, it's just the wrong approach to growing government."

Image credit: "Corps begins work at FTI WTP project site," © 2013 USACE HQ, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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