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Announcements, News and Notes

Upper Delaware River decision makers gather in Hancock, NY

Jul 14, 2019
It's not often that top governmental authorities who manage the NYC Delaware basin reservoirs and the Upper Delaware River wild trout fishery travel en masse to Hancock, NY to discuss

It's not often that top governmental authorities who manage the NYC Delaware basin reservoirs and the Upper Delaware River wild trout fishery travel en masse to Hancock, NY to discuss often highly charged issues associated with protecting the recreational economy of the Upper Delaware River.

But that's what happened at the FUDR office this week.

The topic of discussion was a new protocol to keep water temperatures in the Upper Delaware River cool through the hot summer months to ensure the protection of the unique cold water ecosystem and wild trout fishery below the NYC Delaware basin reservoirs that is so important to the local economy of our region.

In October of 2017, the new plan (FFMP2017) that governs NYC Delaware basin reservoir operations went into effect after years of complicated and often heated negotiations among the "Decree Parties" (NY, PA, NJ, DE, NYC).

Among multiple objectives, one of the plan's most immediate requirements called for the development and implementation of a 2500 cfs "thermal mitigation bank" (TMB) for the upper river. That's a wonky term that refers to a system of reserving a specified amount of water in the NYC reservoirs to be released, as needed, for the express purpose of keeping upper river water temperatures cool during summer heat waves.

Interestingly, the timing of the meeting coincided with high air temperatures recently in the Hancock region that warmed the river enough to trigger two thermal releases from the Cannonsville reservoir in the past week.

In March of 2018, the Delaware River Basin Commission reactivated the Subcommittee of Ecological Flows (SEF) consisting of state and federal officials and members of the UDR conservation community including Friends of the Upper Delaware River and Trout Unlimited.

Over the past 14 months SEF met 8 times and reached consensus on a proposal that is referred to as "Simple 75". That means whenever the water temperature at the USGS gauge at Lordville, NY is predicted to meet or exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the NYSDEC will call for a thermal release from Cannonsville reservoir to keep water temperatures below 75 F.

Three important points of clarification with respect to the 75 F target at Lordville, NY:

  1. Exceedances of 75 degrees at Lordville have significantly diminished since the FFMP baseline water releases were improved in 2011.
  2. Conservation interests on SEF successfully countered an initial proposal that called for a 77 F target at Lordville under certain conditions, a temperature that approaches lethality for trout.
  3. SEF made a commitment to study the possibilities of a 72 F target and to reconsider the size of the TMB should it bear out that 2500 cfs days is not enough to adequately protect the cold water ecosystem.

Upper Delaware River advocates should be pleased that all five Decree Parties acknowledged the important need to protect the upper river through the development of a thermal bank. That's a testament to our collective advocacy efforts over the years.

We extend our sincere thanks to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, NYC Department of Environmental Protection, Delaware River Basin Commission, and the PA Fish and Boat Commission for their presentations to a packed room of diverse river supporters that included local elected officials and government agencies, landowners, business owners, anglers, fishing guides, and members of the media.

We'd also like to extend our great appreciation to Dr. Peter Kolesar from Columbia University for his insightful presentation that helped our audience gain a better understanding of the complexities of addressing thermal issues in the upper river. Thanks also to Jim Serio, Garth Pettinger, Bob Bachman, and Lee Hartman for their service and invaluable contributions through the DRBC Subcommittee on Ecological Flows.

Here are presentation links from the FUDR public meeting:
Mark Klotz 
Peter Kolesar 

For the river,
Jeff Skelding, Executive Director