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Watching water quality: ‘Monitoring for Natural Gas Development’ underway

DRBC staff conduct biomonitoring surveys at Barney Hollow near Downsville, Delaware County, NY.


October 5, 2011

For 50 years, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has focused its work on protecting the waters of the Delaware River Basin (DRB). In addition to a decade-long biomonitoring program and other efforts detailed earlier in this series, the DRBC has focused lately on implementing its newest program, “Monitoring for Natural Gas Development (MNGD).”

The program brings together various initiatives to address the DRBC’s concern that the existing water quality in the DRB’s Special Protection Waters (SPW) is maintained. As such, it is monitoring a suite of parameters to establish pre-drilling conditions against which changes can be measured if and when drilling for natural gas begins in the basin.

MNGD incorporates baseline data gathered by the National Park Service, United States Geological Survey, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, New York Department of Environmental Conservation and Environmental Protection Agency.
It also brings in additional targeted biological monitoring, consistent recording of conductivity and temperature utilizing in-stream devices known as HOBO Loggers and the reanalysis of archived water samples.

At the August meeting of the Upper Delaware Council (UDC), Dr. Thomas Fikslin, who manages the DRBC’s Monitoring, Modeling and Assessment Branch, described the program and its focus. Fikslin noted that 36% of the Delaware River Basin is underlain by the Marcellus Shale, with speculation that the largest natural gas yields are expected toward northern Delaware County, NY, Wayne County, PA and parts of Sullivan County, NY.

Fikslin told the UDC that the DRBC’s management framework for the SPWs above Trenton, NJ allows for no measurable change to water quality based on data collected prior to 1992. Five years ago, the DRBC began monitoring to evaluate current water quality against water quality targets established in 1992, and to develop data to apply the management framework to the Middle and Upper Delaware River.

The DRBC’s 10-year biomonitoring program has tracked the biological community in different parts of the watershed, assessing the health of macro-invertebrate populations, which are key indicators of healthy waterways. Organisms such as stoneflies, river mussels and mayflies respond to changes in water quality and can serve as benchmarks in the current SPW regulations.

The DRBC targeted 103 watersheds of similar sizes in Pennsylvania and New York State to gather existing baseline data for its biomonitoring. Thirty-five sites were sampled in PA in April 2011 and 68 were sampled in New York in July and August.