River flows are dropping dramatically as NYC reverts to old agreement

New York City: 'We hope a new flow program for the Delaware River will be agreed upon in short order'


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  • This view north of Milford beach shows the Delaware River at a low level (File photo by Charles Reynolds)




  • Source: NYC Department of Environmental Protection



"New York City remains fully engaged in productive negotiations with the four states. The past three months have brought significant progress."
DEP Deputy Commissioner Paul Rush


— The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced on Aug. 23 that it is suspending voluntary releases of additional water from its Delaware River system reservoirs and ramp down to minimum outlined in the interstate agreement that regulates river flows.

The city is making this change in two steps. On Sept. 5, it reduced releases from the Cannonsville, Pepacton, and Neversink reservoirs, with further reductions to be made starting Oct. 10. The releases will meet the minimum outlined in Revision 1, the 1983 program that currently regulates flows.

New York City began to voluntarily release additional water from its Delaware system reservoirs in June, after the city and the states of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania failed to renew the existing flow management program for the Delaware River, or agree on a new program. The stalemate required river management to revert to Revision 1, developed 34 years ago "without the benefit of modern science and modeling," according to the DEP.

The older program, which became effective this year on June 1, included minimum releases rates significantly less than the amount of water typically released from New York City’s reservoirs into the headwaters of the Delaware River. In most cases, summer releases would have been cut by more than half. Reverting to the older management plan also eliminated a program that aided flood management, the city says.

To support the Upper Delaware's fishery and river recreation businesses during summer's peak, the city agreed to voluntarily release quantities above the minimum targets in Revision 1.

“The voluntary release of additional cold water into the Delaware River over the past 12 weeks marked a deliberate effort by New York City to prevent undue harm to the world-class trout fishery and businesses in New York and Pennsylvania during a time when thousands of visitors are arriving to enjoy the region’s natural resources," said DEP Deputy Commissioner Paul Rush. "However, these additional releases of water were never meant to be a long-term substitute for the type of unanimous agreement, between the states and the city, that the U.S. Supreme Court envisioned in its 1954 decree. As we move past the near-term challenges of the peak of summer, the City believes it is appropriate to return its operations to the model of unanimous consent that has guided flows in the Delaware River for decades. Just as our voluntary releases sought to lessen the sudden impact of dropping to Revision 1, our changes now will also be carefully timed and staged. ...New York City also remains fully engaged in productive negotiations with the four states. The past three months have brought significant progress, and we hope a new flow program for the Delaware River will be agreed upon in short order.”

SourceNew York City Department of Environmental Protection, "NYC DEP to Suspend Voluntary Releases of Water from Delaware System Reservoirs": http://on.nyc.gov/2xOnD4G

Related stories"Delaware River set to go dry, if impasse holds": http://bit.ly/2j37B3v

"River flow spared by contingency plan": http://bit.ly/2eFHY3U





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