In response to heavy public pressure, the 1954 Supreme Court Decree Parties convened last week in Trenton, NJ to provide the public with a status update on the next plan for the management of the NYC Delaware River basin reservoirs.
It appears as if the Decree Parties are very close to a new long term (10 year) management plan for the reservoirs. While nothing has been finalized and negotiations are ongoing, here’s what we learned from their presentation with respect to the impacts on the Upper Delaware River:
- The new plan closely resembles the former FFMP structure and approach in many ways and includes the ability to be adaptive as new information and data becomes available that supports modifications and course corrections.
- The parties have agreed to the creation of a thermal relief bank that can address dangerous periods of high air and water temperatures in the coldwater system of the upper river.
- The parties have agreed to a bank of water set aside to eliminate the devastating impacts of erratic “yo-yo” water releases that rapidly dewater the river, pose long term threats to aquatic habitat, and disrupt recreational opportunities that are so important to the local economy of the UDR region.
- There are indications that management decisions about the use of the water in the thermal and “yo-yo” banks may be streamlined in a way that avoids the cumbersome process of gathering unanimous approval from all five parties.
- According to recent DRBC modeling, the new plan will keep water releases in the higher release tables for longer periods of time throughout the year, which means more water for the river.
- The East Branch and Neversink rivers receive modest increases in baseline conservation releases that will help protect and improve the health of both of those systems.
- The parties have agreed to cooperatively study several unaddressed issues that are critically important to the upper river and maintain enough flexibility in the plan to incorporate changes as they are agreed upon. These issues include protection of the Dwarf Wedge Mussel and examining how the bank of water (IERQ) reserved for multiple downstream needs is calculated.
- There are positive indications from all of the parties regarding an increased willingness to create more opportunities for public participation and engagement as the unaddressed issues are prepared for incorporation into the 10 year plan.
Our initial take on the plan:
- The new plan fails to reflect the true amount of water we believe is available most of the time in the Delaware system that could be used to significantly improve/increase baseline conservation releases from the Delaware reservoirs. This continues to be an enormous shortcoming in reservoir management and often cripples the ability of the Upper Delaware River to achieve it’s maximum ecological and economic potential.
- It’s tremendous news that thermal issues and “yo-yo” impacts will be formally addressed in the new plan. For years, the UDR conservation community has made these two items a top priority in our annual “Fair Share” requests and we are very pleased that they will receive specific programmatic attention in the new plan.
- The creation of the thermal and “yo yo” banks should provide the appropriate resource agencies (especially NYS and PA fisheries staff) with more flexibility and autonomy to make independent (and quicker) decisions about the use of those new banks while avoiding the need to corral all five parties every time the upper river needs water for these purposes.
- It is frustrating that more study is required for some of the unaddressed issues. In part, this is an unfortunate byproduct of the negative dynamics among the parties over the last several years which has prevented good faith discussions and killed any semblance of collaborative spirit. Hopefully, agreement on this new plan creates a path for a more united and inclusive process that meets the needs of all stakeholders while protecting the economic and environmental qualities of the river system.
- The enhanced opportunities for public engagement in plan implementation is an encouraging new development that the conservation community should seize upon.
Of Immediate Importance!
At the RFAC meeting, NYC informed the audience that they will stand by their plan to suspend their voluntary release program on October 10. That means dangerously low Revision 1 water releases will be back in play on that date.
At the moment, the releases from Cannonsville Reservoir are over 1000 cfs in order to meet the lower basin flow target at Montague, NJ. When the large directed release is no longer necessary, the upper river could receive another “yo-yo” shock in the absence of a new agreement or another temporary release plan.
It just so happens that October 11 is the date of the FUDR annual conference in Hancock, NY at the West Branch Angler and all of the Decree Party representatives will be in attendance. Please consider attending our conference and let your voice be heard during this critical period for the Upper Delaware River. Click here to register