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THE EFFECTS OF a mid-winter drought are apparent on the shores of the Neversink Reservoir. The water is down and the reservoir is currently at just 34 percent of its capacity. The county and New York City, which draws off of the Delaware water system to provide drinking water to its residents, are now under a drought warning.

Drought Grows Serious

By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY — February 5, 2002 – It doesn’t really seem like water is scarce right now – there’s still snow covering many of the fields and water in the ditches.
But the reservoirs of the Delaware River are still suffering the effects of a mid-winter drought, and officials are investigating New York City’s role in the impending problems.
A drought warning is currently in effect for Sullivan County, along with 10 other upstate New York counties.
A warning is classified one level above a drought watch. Water suppliers are encouraged to review contingency plans, and residents are asked to conserve when showering, brushing their teeth and going about their daily business.
Because of the unusually dry weather over the last several months, New York City has been releasing water from its reservoirs to maintain the flow of the Delaware River.
That release is required by law, said Charlie Sturken, chief of staff of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The city owns the reservoirs which feed the Delaware River system and uses the water from the three main reservoirs – Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink – to supply water to its residents.
But when it came time to release water into the Delaware this year, said Tony Ritter, a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and National Park Service (NPS) certified fishing guide and owner of Gone Fishing Guide Services in Narrowsburg, NYC released an enormous amount of water from the Cannonsville dam.
“They usually release water from Cannonsville because it is considered inferior water,” Ritter explained.
That saves the water in the Neversink and Pepacton dams for the faucets of city residents, he added.
The water in the Cannonsville Reservoir is not unclean and will not hurt the ecosystem. Because of its mineral content, however, it’s said not to taste as good as the water in the other reservoirs.
But the release had a devastating impact on the Cannonsville dam. It sunk to just 3.4 percent of its capacity – a record low.
“There’s a lot of question as to whether they should have released that much from Cannonsville and whether they should have released water from Pepacton and Neversink as well,” Ritter explained.
Jim Serio, head of the Delaware River Foundation, has questioned the controls that are put on NYC’s management of the water system.
The Supreme Court ruling which requires NYC to maintain a flow of 1,750 cubic feet at a checkpoint in Montague, NJ, is flawed, Serio said.
“It does not stipulate where that water has to come from,” he explained.
In addition, NYC can drop the amount of water they are releasing from the reservoirs if the weatherman announces a certain amount of rain is expected, Serio said.
But if the expected rainfall doesn’t come, the river is in trouble, he added, having a negative impact on the insects and fish in the water.
Last year, he explained, a large number of shad died because of the releasing policy.
“You have to protect the river, you have to protect the bugs and fish, and you have to maintain the minimum flow of the river,” he said.
Economically, he added, changes in the river could have a very negative impact on the area’s fishing industry.
According to Sturken, conditions are currently improving for the water system, though they are still in dire straits.
The Cannonsville Reservoir is now at 17 percent of its capacity. The Pepacton and Neversink reservoirs are both sitting at around 34 percent of their capacity.
The snowpack melting and recent rain have slightly improved the conditions.
But, said Ritter, at this time of year Cannonsville is usually at 50 or 60 percent of its capacity, not 17.
The entire system is normally at 81 percent of its capacity at this time of the year, but currently it is at just 42 percent.
However New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently declared the city to be in a drought warning, asking city residents and those upstate who draw off of the Delaware water system to cut back on their consumption.
“From the water conservation perspective, there is good news,” Sturken said. “Our consumption is down, and people are getting the message.”
Water usage records showed the least amount of water used in the entire month of January was in the days after Bloomberg’s announcement.
And Sullivan County leaders are echoing the same warnings.
“As the county prepares for its annual spring transformation, we would be wise to conserve water before we reach a crisis,” advised County Manager Dan Briggs.
While recent and future rains might spell relief for the area, residents are asked to heed the warnings and prepare for a drier-than-usual summer.

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