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Spokesman: city not solely responsible for the upper river’s health

Thomas Murphy Jr. listens to a question from Andy Boyar, supervisor of the Town of Highland.

By David Hulse
June 11, 2013

NARROWSBURG, NY — Even though he arrived 20 minutes late, Thomas Murphy Jr. got a warm welcome Thursday evening from Upper Delaware Council (UDC) chair Jeffrey Dexter, who said, “We’ve been waiting 30 years for you.”

The UDC has long awaited a spokesman to answer questions about New York City’s handling of the upstream dams that control flows in the Delaware River, and Murphy serves as Chief of Reservoir Release Policy Development of the New York City (NYC) Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Water Supply.

Murphy came with a presentation about the city’s system, including 19 reservoirs in a 2,000 square-mile watershed, which when full impounds 580 billion gallons of water and provides 1.1 billion gallons to nine million people daily.

A difference in philosophies about the watershed was evident early, as Murphy displayed maps showing where “our” water is located.

Deerpark UDC representative John Dean, quickly interjected. “No, it’s our water.”

There was no immediate debate about the contradiction, but the issue was paramount in the question-and-answer session after his slideshow, which stretched Murphy’s program to over an hour.

Use of the Delaware River water is determined by a 1954 Supreme Court decision and subsequent management agreements among the so-called Decree Parties (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, and the City of New York). The original decision entitled New York City to draw up to 800 million gallons per day (mgd) of water for its needs, and mandated in addition that enough water be released to maintain minimum flows at Montague, NJ. Unanimous consent is required to make changes in water release policies, but there have been a number of changes since the original decree. A comprehensive explanation of them can be found at water.usgs.gov/osw/odrm/releases.html.

In his presentation, Murphy revealed that NYC’s actual water demand in recent years has fallen substantially, having peaked in the 1970s at around 700 mgd, to levels similar to the record drought of the 1960s, crediting conservation measures.

Murphy said the city’s primary goal is to ensure that the reservoirs are 100% full by June 1 of each year. Water not drawn by New York City or used to maintain the Montague target, termed the Excess Release Quantity (ERQ) or Interim Excess Release Quantity (IERQ) “is not ours” he said, and is available for downstream uses. But as noted, there must be unanimous agreement among the decree parties regarding such uses.