Flows on the Upper Delaware

FRIENDS OF THE UPPER DELAWARE RIVER The world famous upper Delaware River, and its equally renowned West Branch, is the largest remaining wild trout river left in the Northeast. It is, however, also much more than that. It is a dynamic tourism and economic engine that hasn't yet reached its potential. In fact, it is seriously threatened. The economic importance of the fishery is suggested by a 1996 study sponsored jointly by the American Sportfishing Association and Trout Unlimited. Dealing only with Delaware County, the study estimates that the River's wild trout fishery generated angling revenues of $17.7 million annually and some $30 million in local economic activity. (Had the research been conducted in 2006, the figures would have been considerably larger due to intervening inflation and the River's growing reputation.) FUDR research indicates that as much as 70% of angler spending takes place from late April through mid June. This short season reflects the fishing community's recognition that fishing conditions in July, August and September are generally very poor due to low releases from the Cannonsville reservoir (resulting in elevated water temperatures and low flow levels). Many of the anglers who might logically continue fishing the Delaware during the summer travel to other locations like the Rocky Mountain States where seasonal fishing conditions are much better. Adequate cold water releases from Cannonsville throughout the summer would protect the River's threatened rainbow trout, would significantly increase the numbers of wild brown and rainbow trout, and would more than double the length of the fishing season. As a result, it is easy to imagine annual fishing related spending of well over $60 million in Delaware County alone & shy a very significant number for a depressed region. Moreover, the benefits of much increased angler-related revenues could be secured without any new investment and without posing any threat to the environment. The guides and outfitters, stores, gas stations, restaurants and motels needed to service the enlarged demand that would be seen in July, August and September are already in-place. Beyond recurring angler spending, it is estimated that in the last two years, flyfishers have spent more than $10 million purchasing riverfront homes and land and on related new home construction on the upper Delaware. The better the fishing, the stronger the demand for property is likely to be, implying new jobs and a more profitable environment for the local residents. Thus, enlightened River management would have very favorable implications for the economy of the region. Sadly, the just announced Flexible Flow Management Plan (FFMP) presented by the DRBC is basically a step backward. Instead of leading to improved conditions for the fishery, its implementation will lead to reduced River flows and higher water temperatures during the summer months, thereby eliminating day time insect hatching and fishing as well as resulting in substantially reduced trout and insect populations. The local economy, instead of being strengthened, will be damaged, jobs will be lost and property values will be eroded. (An alternative proposal, CP2, offered by several fishing related groups is somewhat better than the FFMP but is not remotely adequate and, like the FFMP, virtually writes off the main stem and the rainbow trout, and does essentially nothing for flood mitigation.) At a recent meeting sponsored by the DRBC to secure public comment on the FFMP, FUDR voiced its opposition and put forward its plan for the River. FUDR's proposal would result in excellent fishing throughout the summer into the fall, and would enlarge the trout population. In addition. It would go a long way toward addressing the flood control concerns of property owners up and down the River by incorporating substantial voids in the three upper Delaware River Reservoirs and would provide the flows needed to support canoeing and kayacking and other ecotourism interests all season long. Finally, the FUDR plan envisages a mechanism for frequent review by local and state elected officials so that mid-course adjustments could be made as needed. The FUDR plan has been roundly criticized for using more water than the system generates. Our position is that history shows that there is ample water in most years and that the data putting the plan in doubt is skewed by faulty assumptions, burdened by overly conservative drought curves and distorted by other unrealistic premises. In dry years when water is not abundant, FUDR believes that all River users should be willing to reduce their consumption. However, in normal years, let alone wet ones, the ample amounts of water that the system provides should be made available in such a way that all of the River's users benefit.