Delaware Flows

The Mayor of New York City and the Decision on the Delaware River Reservoirs' Interim Flexible Flow Management Program

It has been widely reported that NYC's Mayor Bloomberg has been researching the feasibility of entering the 2008 race for the White House. He could join an ambitious cadre of aspirants who seek to address monumental issues including the war in Iraq, a deeply troubled economy and the specter of global environmental disaster. These are hugely complex problems and only the tip of a long list of important domestic and international woes.

Locally, within a three hour drive of City Hall, New York City is privileged to own and benefit from one of the finest municipal water supply systems of any large city in the world. Cold water reservoirs, fed by classic Catskill streams and the storied headwaters of the Delaware River, are connected to aqueducts which direct some 500 million gallons of unfiltered drinking water to City residents on a daily basis. The water flowing from our faucets, superior in flavor to much of what is purchased in countless plastic bottles, has responsibilities attached to it. By a 1954 Federal decree, an organization called the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) was formed to determine that, in addition to the City's legitimate right to its water supply from the reservoirs it owns, downstream communities as small as Hancock, NY to as large as Trenton, NJ and Philadelphia, PA, as well as the Delaware River's ecosystem, all receive their fare share of the Delaware watershed's bountiful flows.

Since it is required that flow volume targets at Montague and other gauging stations must be met, cold bottom-releases from the headwater reservoirs on the West Branch, East Branch and Neversink River which co-mingle to form the upper main stem of the Delaware River have allowed fish and wildlife to flourish. Nature, of course, is always in a state of flux as is humanity's ever-growing thirst.Over the past decade spring and summer temperatures have been rising and snow melt and rain storms have intensified in their unpredictability. Property and even life-threatening, reservoir overflow-spilling "100 year floods" have devastated Delaware River communities three times in just three years; September 2004, April 2005 and June 2006. At the same time, low flows and high water temperatures during May, prior to mandated conservation releases which commence in mid-June, damaged the nationally renowned wild population of rainbow and brown trout along with the economies of the towns that thrive on angling, canoeing and other recreational tourism.

Recognizing the increasing damage to the Delaware's ecosystem that the unsophisticated and poorly managed reservoir releases are causing, a consortium of citizen and environmental organizations including Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, The Delaware River Foundation, Friends of the Upper Delaware River and the Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, have brought in independent hydrologists and biologists and successfully convinced the DRBC to initiate an interim Flexible Flow Management Program. Dr. Peter Kolesar of Columbia University has determined that there are sufficient water reserves to meet the needs of the well-represented cities while simultaneously managing gradually ramped, year-round releases to protect and enhance the Delaware River habitat for aquatic insects, trout, American shad, osprey and Bald Eagles that share a parallel right to the river's riches. Commentary on the modification and implementation of this FFMP are due this Friday, January 18th.

It is my hope that Mayor Bloomberg forsakes national office aspirations for the time being and remains Mayor of New York. Only he, in conjunction with the expertise of Commissioner Emily Lloyd's DEP is in a sufficiently powerful position to intervene immediately and appoint an Ombudsman to wisely apportion the City's reservoir reserves to protect water supply rights and quality, flood mitigation, up-state local community's economic health and last but hardly least, our profound responsibility to environmental integrity. Imagine the positive political value of being known as the leader who successfully integrated the clean water needs of more than 15 million Americans, addressed the economic and environmental needs of numerous communities, resolved the long-contested flow management issues impacting the finest wild trout fishery east of the Mississippi and, for good measure, implemented repair of the infrastructure that wastefully leaks an estimated 35 million gallons of precious Delaware drinking water every day while, simultaneously, representing the best interests of the citizens of this great City. Such a multi-faceted achievement would be a great and long range accomplishment of historical proportions.

--Richard Franklin, NYC