River plan agreed to
Healthier releases to remain in effect
REGION — On a day when water releases from the New York City reservoirs were scheduled to be dramatically reduced, the five parties to the 1954 Supreme Court decree governing releases from those reservoirs reached an agreement that maintained the higher release levels. That ended a threat that many believed could have meant environmental degradation to the Upper Delaware River.
The Office of the Delaware River Master released a statement on October 21 that said, “New York State, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the City of New York today announced that they have unanimously approved a 10-year, two-part Flexible Flow Management Program (FFMP2017) intended to meet water supply demands, protect fisheries habitat downstream of the New York City (NYC) Delaware Basin reservoirs, enhance flood mitigation, and repel the upstream movement of salt water in the Delaware Estuary.”
The adoption of FFMP2017 had been effectively blocked by New Jersey, which had been pressing several demands including to its right to certain levels of withdrawal during drought and an insistence that the estimates of the total quantity of water available in the system be recalculated.
The demands appear to be largely addressed in the new agreement. Studies will be conducted that will consider “the impact of New Jersey water-supply diversions during drought conditions,” and will also address the salt line south of Philadelphia created by salt water encroaching upriver from Delaware Bay, and whether releases from the New York City reservoirs should be detached from the position of the salt line. And contingent upon progress during the first five years of plan implementation, the parties may agree to a second five years during which the reconsideration of the method for calculating the amount of available, as requested by New Jersey, would occur.
FFMP2017 also increases flood mitigation. A release from the New York City Department of Environmental Conservation says, “NYC will create a higher potential to achieve a 15% storage void in its Delaware Basin reservoirs from November 1 through the following February 1 to help mitigate flooding events. This program may help reduce peak spill rates during periods of high inflows and heavy snowmelt.”
Trout fishing enthusiasts had been concerned about the releases reverting to a plan from the 1980s, which would have dramatically lowered the releases from the reservoirs and threatened the health of the fishery. And in some ways, FFMP2017 should be better than the prior one for the fishery: the plan calls for the establishment of a 10 BG (billion gallon) reserve called the Interim Excess Release Quantity, allocated to four water banks including 1.62 BG for mitigation of water temperature spikes and 0.65 BG for mitigation of rapid recession (“yo-yo”) water releases. The first mentioned would help address the problem of thermal stress on trout that has raised concerns in recent years, as discussed in several articles Peter Kolesar has written for this newspaper proposing a specific program for thermal relief using carefully calculated pulse reservoir releases. The water for such a program should now be available.
“Yo-yo releases” occur when rates of release are changed suddenly and dramatically from one level to another, as opposed to gradual ramping up or down, which has been a problem not only for trout and other river biota but also for canoe liveries and drift boats. The stipulated banks should provide the means to address this problem as well.
A post on the website of Friends of the Upper Delaware thanks members for contacting their Decree Party representative and lobbying to have them agree to FFMP2017.
UPDATE 10/25 at 4 p.m. : The actual text of the signed agreement has now been posted on the Delaware River Master's site at https://water.usgs.gov/osw/odrm/ffmp/FFMP2017.pdf , with details on the Flexible Flow Management Program in Appendix A at https://water.usgs.gov/osw/odrm/ffmp/FFMP2017_Appendix_A.pdf