States Approve Plan to Regulate Delaware River Reservoirs

Representatives from New York state, New York City, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania approved a proposal that modifies New York City's reservoir operations with the goals of a more seasonal flow of water and reduction of the risk of flooding, which devastated riverfront communities in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

The plan for the Delaware River reservoirs is designed to provide greater flood protection, improve fisheries management and allow for greater flexibility to address future water needs without compromising the reliability of the public water supply for New York City and Philadelphia.

"Following the devastating floods of the last couple years, Pennsylvania immediately went to work to improve public safety and flood response," Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty said. "With this new agreement, we're building on that effort by improving reservoir operations with measures that are based on sound science and don't threaten the public's water supply or fisheries."

Major highlights of the plan include:

  • More water for the East Branch and West Branch of the Delaware River and the Neversink River: Under a 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decree, New York City could divert up to 800 million gallons per day from the reservoirs. However, New York City has agreed to cap that at 765 million gallons.
  • Better trout habitat: Because of the extra available water, the river will be able to maintain colder and more regular temperatures.
  • Natural flows: Flows will be modified to reflect more natural water levels. The plan will allow more water to be released when reservoirs are full or near full, and when reservoirs reach a certain level, releases are switched to lower releases -- but to levels that are still high enough to protect aquatic habitat.
  • Flood mitigation: New York City has agreed to keep reservoirs at levels that are, in most instances, less than full so that stormwater has a place to go during flood events. The intent is to reduce flows and floods downriver from the Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink reservoirs during extreme conditions.

    Better public information: Forecasts about reservoir levels will be available more than a day in advance, perhaps as much as several weeks in advance.

The plan goes into effect on an interim basis immediately. After taking public comment, the Delaware River Basin Commission will vote on the plan next year.

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