New river agreement relieves worry about flooding, recreation

All parties on board with 10-year agreement on reservoir releases


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  • Rafters and boaters on the Upper Delaware (Photo by Anya Tikka)



"The 10-year program protects public health for millions of Americans by sustaining their supplies of high-quality drinking water. The agreement also expands efforts to enhance flood attenuation and support the outdoor recreation economy of the upper Delaware River through the protection of its natural ecology and wild trout fishery.”
Paul Rush, New York City Department of Environmental Protection

By Anya Tikka

— There's a new ten-year agreement to regulate river flows along the Upper Delaware, in the wake of an on-again, off-again recreational season.

The new agreement, which went into effect on Oct. 20, aims to void 15 percent from Delaware Basin reservoirs from Nov. 1 through the following Feb. 1 to mitigate flooding, according to an announcement by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. It will also adjust reservoir releases as needed to repel the migration of salt water from the Atlantic Ocean up the tidal river during low-flow conditions.

In the spring, the Delaware River Basin Commission could not agree on how much water to release from the reservoirs that regulate the river flows, which put local fisheries and water-tourism-based businesses in grave jeopardy. Partners downriver are more concerned about water supply than upriver partners, whose focus is on recreation, tourism, and the environment, including flood prevention.

Local boating liveries and fisheries had warned that decreased water flows would result in salt build-up — which happened previous year, with water released too late to prevent harm to wildlife and river businesses.

Irregular water releases can also lead to extreme flooding. If the reservoirs are too full when a bad storm hits, the resulting overflow could be catastrophic for the region.

The city reported on Oct. 24 that reservoirs were 73.6 percent full, with normal being 75.1 percent.

New York City agreed, just after a blown deadline in June, to continue water releases temporarily, at least for the season. Last week the city gave a nod to the needs of upriver residents when announcing the new agreement.

“New York City is pleased that the Decree Parties today committed to a long-term agreement that balances the myriad interests connected to the Delaware River," stated Paul Rush, Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, on the city's website last week. "The 10-year program protects public health for millions of Americans by sustaining their supplies of high-quality drinking water. The agreement also expands efforts to enhance flood attenuation and support the outdoor recreation economy of the upper Delaware River through the protection of its natural ecology and wild trout fishery.”'

All parties on boardThe New York State Department of Environmental Protection released a statement on Oct. 17 saying the stalemate with New York City Department of Environmental Protection had been successfully negotiated, and that all relevant parties were on board.

The new operating plan, signed by New York State, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the City of New York, will implement the ten-year Flexible Flow Management Program in two stages of five years each, according to the city.

Rush said more rigorous and ongoing scientific analysis is needed.

“New York City will approach the work ahead with the same spirit of collaboration that yielded the new flow-management program today," he said.

New York City Department of Environmental Protection manages the city’s water supply, which provides more than one billion gallons of high-quality water each day to more than 9.5 million people, he noted. This includes more than 70 upstate communities and institutions in Ulster, Orange, Putnam and Westchester counties, who consume an average of 110 million gallons of drinking water daily from the city’s water system. The water is derived from the Catskill, Delaware, and Croton watersheds, which extend in some cases more than 125 miles from the city. The system comprises 19 reservoirs, three controlled lakes, and numerous tunnels and aqueducts.

Rush said the city pays $166 million annually in taxes in upstate counties, and has invested more than $1.7 billion in watershed protection programs.

The Supreme Court established the Delaware River Basin Commission in 1954 to manage the Delaware River water flows. Among its duties are regulating releases of water from the three NYC reservoirs (Pepacton, Cannonsville, and Neversink) located in the headwaters of the Delaware River.

Related stories"Outfitters ponder a future of reduced river flows": http://bit.ly/2gB5aBj

"River flows are dropping dramatically as NYC reverts to old agreement": http://bit.ly/2x1tK5S

“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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