To balance the needs of all

Peter Kolesar, water releases, and the state of the Delaware River

By ANDY BOYAR
Posted 11/3/21

These are Boyar’s remarks as he introduced Peter Kolesar at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum’s ceremony on October 30. The center named its newest Hall of Fame members and …

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To balance the needs of all

Peter Kolesar, water releases, and the state of the Delaware River

Posted

These are Boyar’s remarks as he introduced Peter Kolesar at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum’s ceremony on October 30. The center named its newest Hall of Fame members and presented the Lee Wulff Conservation Award.

What a great day for flyfishing. This afternoon was amazing. Congratulations to our newly minted Hall of Famers—Paul Bruun, William Tyler and Ted Williams. And of course, Dave Brandt. Is there a person in this room who didn’t think of Dave as a friend? Free flies tomorrow, indeed! He sure brightened many lives.

Now to complete the day’s festivities, I have the pleasure of presenting the Lee Wulff Conservation Award. This award recognizes those who have made a significant contribution to the preservation of our wild game fish and their habitat through protection of the waters, catch and release and/or education programs for youngsters.

Dr. Peter J. Kolesar qualifies on all three counts and I’d like to tell you a little more about him.

Professor Peter Kolesar made his mark at the interfaces of applied mathematics, computer science and engineering at Columbia University and in his work in the corporate sector and in government policy and practices. He has enjoyed a lifetime of professional and academic achievements before turning his skills to the complex issues of the Delaware River.

Peter was a fisher from his earliest days, but it was a chance encounter on Montgomery Lake many years ago that first put a fly rod in his hand. After outings in Idaho and Montana, he became a founding partner of Montana Flies, and that cemented his commitment and passion for flyfishing. Back here in the Catskills, it was as a flyfisher that he first questioned if the water release policies on the Delaware were optimum for the benefit of the river ecosystem.

As we all must know, the waters of the Delaware River system are coveted by a host of users including the City of New York, four states as well as agricultural and industrial users. Beyond the water needs of 15 million people, there are other issues including saltwater intrusion, flooding and drought concerns. Into this tangled and crowded arena entered Peter with his concerns about the fishery.

Here in the Catskills, it seemed plain to Peter as early as 2005 that as much as 25 percent of the impounded Catskill waters were not being optimally released from the reservoirs. Peter, along with Jim Serio and colleagues at Columbia Water Center started collecting and analyzing the data to first understand the extent of the water resources and then to question how the available water resource could be optimally used.

I don’t think the professor could have imagined that he had embarked on a 15-year quest—developing the science of improved release policies, lobbying the policymakers, and generating grassroots support for improved releases.

Water wars are serious business as we vividly see in the West and worldwide. The policy deciders are always dedicated to protecting their realms. Changing the status quo could only be successful if it was compellingly demonstrated that a flexible flow release program would impair no special interest and would benefit the river generally.

Peter’s ability as a good listener helped him to address the concerns of all involved in the decision-making process, and his attention to the data and details established that release protocols could be improved. Many others were engaged in this mission and we are in their debt, but it was Dr. Kolesar who coalesced conflicting needs and wants into acceptable policies. The Flexible Flow Management Program, its revisions and the latest improved policy for thermal mitigation are the results of this collaborative work. The positive impacts of these protocols cannot be overstated; our fishery and river ecology has been greatly improved.  

The beauty of flyfishing is that it is done in unspoiled places and where thoughtful management of the tailwaters is embraced for the benefit of all users. We have Peter Kolesar, our Lee Wulff Conservation honoree to thank for helping to engineer improved protocols that benefit the river in general and wild trout in particular. As Columbia professor emeritus and special research scholar in the Water Center of Columbia’s Earth Institute, his analysis and advocacy continue.

I would be remiss if I didn’t speak briefly about Peter, the angler, for he hasn’t been an ivory tower observer. I want to thank him for all the opportunities I have had to enjoy fishing with him, from the waters of New York and PA to the fabled Montana rivers and from Patagonia to the Florida flats. In the fullest tradition of Lee Wulff, I have witnessed Peter land many spectacular fish over the years, but I never once saw him take a single game fish.  Always nothing more than a few photos and prompt release of an unharmed and perhaps wiser fish. He followed Lee Wulff’s catch-and-release urgings with unfailing consistency. Lee Wulff’s inspired observation in 1936 was nothing short of brilliant. “Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once.”

Peter’s game fish are always released unharmed, each as a “gift” to a future angler just as Lee Wulff so poetically urged. He truly lives Lee Wulff’s conservation credo and sets a wonderful example for others. Peter is an active member of the Upper Delaware Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Through his talks on habitat improvement, his slide shows and his help at our casting clinics for youth, he has promoted the Trout Unlimited mission.

So, on behalf of fish and fishers, we thank him.  It is my honor to present Peter J. Kolesar with the Lee Wulff Conservation Award. Congratulations, Peter.

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