Compiled by Frank Rizzo
LANGHORNE, PA November 28, 2000 A 29-member delegation of proponents for a healthy fishery recently traveled from the northernmost reaches of the Upper Delaware River region to Langhorne, Pa. to address the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) about the need for steady river flows and releases.
Organizers from Trout Unlimited and the newly formed Delaware River Foundation chartered a bus November 15 to transport Upper Delaware River fishing guides, outfitters, conservationists, municipal leaders, business operators, tourism promoters, and others impacted by the angling industry to the DRBC meeting.
Representatives from the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) and the National Park Service Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River were also present.
The delegation impressed upon the DRBC Commissioners the correlation between river flows and the aquatic ecosystem, focusing on the spin-off effects that can result from inconsistent water levels.
In first-hand accounts, they spoke of the negative impacts that the low flows which were experienced during the past year on the Upper Delaware River, its West and East Branches, and the Neversink River have had on the regions famous cold-water trout fishery.
Not only does low water jeopardize the protection of the fish and their habitat, delegation members said, but also poor fishing conditions significantly affect the local economy through a reduction of income by angling-related businesses and from a loss of tourism trade.
Our objective is to improve the flow release system from the three (New York City water supply) reservoirs to positively impact trout fishing and the economy. Our goals are to increase flows and help develop a better flow management regime in conjunction with New York Citys needs, Trout Unlimited Catskills Coordinator Nat Gillespie told the Commissioners.
How the System Works
New York City obtains more than half of its drinking water supply from three Catskill reservoirs: Cannonsville on the West Branch of the Delaware River; Pepacton on the East Branch of the Delaware River; and Neversink on the Neversink River. A 1954 Supreme Court Decree allocated a diversion of up to 800 million gallons per day from the three reservoirs to New York City, conditioned on the city making releases from the reservoirs to maintain a minimum target flow in the Delaware River. The Decree also established that a River Master, working through the office of the U.S. Geological Survey, would insure that the provisions are met.
The Delaware River Basin Commission comprised of the four basin states of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, plus a federal representative has worked with New York City to modify releases as needed. The objectives have been to conserve water during drought conditions and to improve the cold-water fisheries below the reservoirs, specifically by establishing a program of augmented conservation releases and a thermal stress bank to control water temperature increases.
Looking for Solutions
Unusually wet weather this year eliminated the need for directed releases to maintain the minimum flow target during the summer and fall of 2000.
In their cordial presentation to the DRBC, the delegation suggested that the low water levels that resulted in the upper stretches of the Delaware River from the natural flows led to extremely poor angling conditions and endangered the fishery.
Phil Chase of Port Jervis, a Trout Unlimited member, described his experiences fishing the Upper Delaware River and its tributaries over the past 50 years, the changes he has witnessed in river flows, and their effects. He applauded the positive steps that the DRBC and New York City have taken to date in response to the concerns of Upper Delaware River interests, and hoped that even more could be done to insure the health of the fishery.
Theres an answer to everything so that our rivers, under the best ecological conditions, will take care of the fisheries, Chase said.
Nat Gillespie announced that Trout Unlimited has recently hired hydrology and fishing experts to compile data and use sound science to develop recommendations for improving the Upper Delaware fishery. He promised to share the results of that eventual report with the DRBC.
Flow Needs Study
Jim Serio of Hancock, acting director of the non-profit Delaware River Foundation whose mission is to understand, protect and improve the unique fishery, wildlife and aesthetic qualities of the Upper Delaware River system, agreed that the optimum flows necessary to fulfill that stated mission are not yet known.
He expressed confidence that a study commissioned by the DRBC entitled Strategy for Resolving Interstate Flow Management Issues in the Delaware River Basin will be a key resource. The Foundation has been encouraging its members and supporters to provide input to the study consultants on the importance of flows to their enjoyment and use of the river.
The consulting team, working under the leadership of Water Resources Management, Inc. of Columbia, MD, updated the DRBC on the status of the $400,000 study at the meeting.
The one-year project began in mid-April and is now 50 percent complete. In its first phase, the consultants have been in contact with more than 100 groups and individuals to gather data concerning flow needs for various river uses and experiences. On December 15, the consultants expect to release a draft flows issues report pertaining to this information.
Other work has included creating Geographic Information System (GIS) base maps of the river basin and developing a scientific computer model which can be used as a tool to test certain flows scenarios and relationships long after the study is complete. The performance of case studies to evaluate the methodology will be the final phase of the project.
On behalf of the DRBC, Commission Chairperson Harry Otto (State of Delaware) thanked the Upper Delaware River delegation for making the trip, sharing their ideas, and contributing so positively to the ongoing discussions of flow needs.
For more information on these topics, contact the Delaware River Basin Commission at (609) 883-9500, ext. 205, Trout Unlimited at (607) 498-5960, the Delaware River Foundation by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Upper Delaware Council at (845) 252-3022.