An ecological disaster caused by an impasse between New Jersey and three other states of the Delaware River Basin has been temporarily averted thanks to an agreement announced Thursday between New York City, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York on a plan to continue sustainable water management for the Delaware River.
Under the agreement, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) will voluntarily release additional water from its Delaware System reservoirs to protect the ecological health of the Delaware River, maintain seasonal reservoir voids that enhance flood protection, and lessen the regional harm caused by the expiration of the Flexible Flow Management Program (FFMP).
The FFMP regulated the flow of water from New York City’s three reservoirs (Cannonsville, Neversink and Pepacton) on the headwaters of the Delaware River since it was first adopted in 2008, according to NYCDEP. The program had been extended for several years upon unanimous agreement of New York City and the states of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, which were given that authority by a 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Decree.
But the FFMP expired on Thursday after the State of New Jersey refused to approve an extension of the program because the Garden State would not get its “fair share” of river water. Without unanimous agreement, flow management on the Delaware River reverted back to a program known as “Revision 1,” which was developed in 1983, says NYCDEP. Under Revision 1, the amount of water released downstream from New York City’s reservoirs would be cut by more than half during most times of the year, and the seasonal 10 percent voids that potentially helped mitigate floods provided by the reservoirs would be eliminated.
“This significant reduction in water releases would adversely affect the wild trout fishery on the upper Delaware River, the myriad tourism businesses that make their living off the river, and riverside communities that benefit from the enhanced flood protection,” NYCDEP said in a statement.
The reservoir releases help push saltier water back toward the Atlantic Ocean and away from drinking water resources, protect river species, and help mitigate potential flooding, the NYCDEP said.
To reduce the negative environmental and economic effects of Revision 1, under the four-party agreement, New York City will voluntarily release quantities of water above the minimum targets beginning Friday. NYCDEP will also release water to meet the seasonal storage objective, a 10 percent void from October to March, that enhances the flood attenuation already provided by the reservoirs, they say.
“While New York City is under no legal obligation to release more water than outlined in the 1983 program, we are using our authority to voluntarily release water for the benefit of downstream communities, ecological health, and to preserve years of progress on the Delaware River,” DEP Acting Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said. “The support we received from the states of Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania has been invaluable. They truly understand that the parties can and should work collaboratively to advance the interests of everyone connected to the river without needlessly moving backward.”