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Power Thirsty River Basin Commissions Out of Control

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River basin commissions created by compacts to coordinate water resource planning have become greedy bureaucratic empires thirsty for ever more control.

There is battle for sovereignty going on this country between states and river basin commissions they created long ago to jointly develop water resources. It’s like a scene out of that old movie 2001, where a computer named Hal suddenly assumes control over its makers. River basin commissions such as the ones created for the Delaware and Susquehanna River watersheds are accumulating power to themselves over land use and economic development with metastasizing regulations and fees that are rendering state governments more and more irrelevant.

river basin commissions

The Delaware River Basin Compact between the states of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and the Federal government was signed in 1961. The Susquehanna River Basin Compact between the states of Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania and the Federal government was signed into law in 1970. The majority of both commissions currently consists of the same three individuals; Brigadier General William H. Graham for the Federal government, New York State DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos for Andrew Cuomo and the Empire State and Pennsylvania DEP Commissioner Patrick McDonnell for Governor Tom Wolf and the Commonwealth.

The respective compacts are also similar in that they are subject to these identical reservations:

Notwithstanding any provision of the Susquehanna [Delaware] River Basin Compact the Susquehanna [Delaware] River Basin Commission shall not undertake any project (as defined in such compact), other than a project for which state supplied funds only will be used, beyond the planning stage until—

(1) Such commission has submitted to the Congress such complete plans and estimates for such project as may be necessary to make an engineering evaluation of such project, including—

(a) Where the project will serve more than one purpose, an allocation of costs among the purposes served and an estimate of the ratio of benefits to costs for each such purpose.

(b) An appointment of costs among the beneficiaries of the project, including the portion of the costs to be borne by the Federal government and by State and local governments, and

(c) A proposal for financing the project, including the terms of any proposed bonds or other evidences of indebtedness to be use for such purpose.

(2) Such project has been authorized by Act of Congress…

This language is of particular significance because it illustrates precisely what Congress and the states had in mind when they created these river basin commissions. They were crafted with the intent to pursue joint development of water supplies for drinking, for commercial/industrial uses (that is to say economic development), for electric power and for recreation.

It was anticipated the parties would work together to develop water resources to meet the needs of growing regions with competing demands for water. It was expected the river basin commissions would keep their noses out of state business, while facilitating cooperative development of new and improved projects to supply more water.

There is no indication of intent to give the DRBC or the SRBC control over every water resource. If no joint funding is not involved, in fact, these river basin commissions are legislatively directed to stay out of the way. They have no authority to pursue such “projects.” Yet, today, they are regulating ever more of our daily lives.

They are effectively regulating water use as well as development by imposing fees on consumption to support their bureaucracies. They are slowly but surely extending their control into land use by requiring permits for any amount of water use in the SRBC region if it’s connected to natural gas development and prohibiting such development in the DRBC region by imposing an effective moratorium while pretending to engage in the development of regulations with no end in sight after seven years.

The word “projects” as used in the compacts has now come to mean review and regulation as well as development. It has been stretched to private as well as public, individual as well as joint and anything else these river basin commissions suppose they ought to regulate.

The sovereignty of the states themselves is being erased bit by bit as these river basin commissions grab more power and establish themselves as overlords over the states. Worst of all, it’s been done with acquiescence of two states — New York and Pennsylvania — who seem only too pleased to surrender their own authority so they don’t have to make decisions themselves.

Such cowardice is to be expected from New York, where special interest politics is the only form known and the DEC Commissioner is a puppet of those special interests, but we haven’t traditionally operated that way in the Commonwealth — at least not so much. It’s time for Patrick McDonnell and DEP to start protecting the rights of all Pennsylvanians from these power-thirsty river basin commissions.

Moreover, it’s time for the Pennsylvania legislature to hold its funding for these commissions until they start respecting sovereignty of their creators; the states. Nothing less will do.

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One thought on “Power Thirsty River Basin Commissions Out of Control

  1. Well you had me at basil seggos of the nydec. I stopped reading right there. The NY DEC has some serious problems.

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