At his recent presentation to the Upper Delaware Council (UDC), Thomas Murphy of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection left the impression that there’s just not enough water available to implement the UDC-supported proposal to provide thermal stress relief for the coldwater fishery of the Upper Delaware. From listening to him, one would conclude that, after New York City has taken its cut of the water in the reservoirs, the downstream stakeholders on the Delaware have had to scramble to satisfy their needs.
At the meeting I asked Murphy whether he had the data on the amount of water available in recent years for extraordinary needs by downstream users, and how much had actually been used versus how much had been wasted. After all, if the data show that most of the water available has been unused, it would indicate that there is enough water for a thermal relief program. He gave me no numbers, but said that the River Master has that data.
I subsequently obtained the data from 2008 to 2012, the period during which the current release regime, the Flexible Flow Management Plan (FFMP), has been in place. They show that, after accounting for the regular releases stipulated by the FFMP, out of about 9,400 cubic feet per second (cfs) days of water available to downstream users, on average fully 7,700 cfs days, or 80%, remained unused at the end of the summer. Murphy commented, during the meeting, that in 2010 “almost all” of the quantity had been used because of downstream drought conditions. Even in that year, 30% remained unused—and, of course, nobody is suggesting that thermal releases be made without regard to drought conditions. Rules could be put in place to restrict or eliminate them when water supply is tight.
The picture that there is scarcely any water available for thermal relief is not accurate. Providing thermal stress relief for this unique New York/Pennsylvania asset, the coldwater fishery of the Upper Delaware, and the substantial slice of the local economy it supports, deserves a closer look.