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December 06, 2016
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Study: better water management means millions for valley

Current members of the Upper Delaware Council pose at their latest meeting, at which they were sworn in.
TRR photos by David Hulse

NARROWSBURG, NY — The value of real estate and business returns in the corridors of the Upper Delaware above Callicoon and on it two major tributaries would be increased by some $78 million over the next 20 years, if river management practices were changed, according to the preliminary findings of a new economic study.

The study, sponsored in part by the Town of Hancock and the Delaware County Department of Economic Development was funded in part by an Upper Delaware Council (UDC) grant, and its author, Tom Shepstone provided the UDC with a “preview” of the ongoing study on February 6.

Saying that he hoped that Paula Brown, who represented Rep. Chris Gibson at the council’s monthly meeting, would bring the message back to Gibson that the river’s economic impact was much greater than most realize, council chair Andrew Boyar juggled the UDC agenda to allow her to hear Shepstone’s presentation.

Prefacing Shepstone’s program, Jeff Skelding of the Friends of the Upper Delaware River, which is also participating in the study, said the study is “directed toward New York City and their management of the (upstream) reservoirs,” and that such studies nationwide have been a potent vehicle for decision-makers over the past 25 years.

The primary concern of the study’s supporters has been management of water releases and their impact on the downstream cold-water fishery. Shepstone said that New York City created the fishery with the creation of the reservoirs, and study sponsors now want them to manage it more effectively.

Summarizing, he said his study, titled, “How much is a river worth?” revealed that the current value of real estate and business in the study area, $152 million, could be increased some 40%, potentially to $230 million, if reservoir releases were done in a more responsible fashion.

Hancock UDC Delegate Fred Peckham suggested that the impacts of downstream PA and New York City Catskill system releases, which supplement and sometimes replace New York City Delaware reservoir releases in maintaining court-required flows at downstream Delaware gauges, should be considered in the study.

Shepstone said that this and other suggestions can yet be addressed. He said, “We’re trying to lay the groundwork for a conversation with New York City.”

Carol Collier, outgoing executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) noted that the study should also be directed at the four “decree party” states to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave New York City primary control of the river’s source waters. Those parties are working to complete a multi-year agreement this spring. “It’s more than New York City. What’s the plan?” she asked.

In other business, Collier reported that the new Pennsylvania budget proposes a $500,000 cut to its annual DRBC funding. The cut equals half of the commission budget and Collier said if it stands, DRBC will be forced to make additional staff reductions, while more technical review work is being asked of it. Delaware, New Jersey and PA have been fully funding DRBC in past years, while New York, she said is “catching up.”

The federal government has not fully funded its share of the multi-state commission’s budget since 1996, despite legal requirements that it do so, Collier added.

The Corbett administration has been very critical of DRBC’s failure to complete permit rules regarding withdrawals for natural gas fracking. Collier would not comment when asked if she thought the budget cut was retaliation for the situation.