Critics blast DRBC’s new watershed plan

Flexible Flow called “disaster” for local economy

By FRITZ MAYER

UPPER DELAWARE VALLEY — Almost all members of the public who spoke at two public hearings regarding a new plan for managing releases to the Delaware River expressed opposition to the plan.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) sponsored the meetings at the Lake Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center in Hawley, PA on March 27. The subject was the Flexible Flow Management Plan (FFMP) proposed by the DRBC, which may go into effect on May 31. The plan is intended to protect fisheries in the Delaware River and its tributaries, enhance the tourism industry, mitigate flooding and protect the drinking water supply for New York City and other municipalities that use the water for drinking.

But many of the approximately 200 people who attended the hearings said the plan falls far short in several areas.

Dave Jones of Kittatinny Canoes said, “The FFMP Plan does absolutely nothing to protect against flooding, and actually provides less water to the river for recreational and fishing purposes than is provided now.” He said the plan would deal a serious blow to businesses that depend on the river for fishing and rafting.

Craig Findley, president of Friends of the Upper Delaware (FUDR), said the FFPM would have a disastrous effect on trout fisheries in the Delaware River above Callicoonžalso known as the main stemžand in the West Branch. Of particular concern is the level of water released from the Cannonsville Reservoir, located on the West Branch. Findley said historically releases from the reservoir to the West Branch in spring have been about 642 cubic foot per second (cfs). Under the FFMP, the releases would be 180 cfs in April and 250 cfs in the summer, which would not be nearly enough to support the fisheries in the rivers.

Representatives of the governors of New York and Pennsylvania, who are commissioners of the DRBC, said that the plan would more accurately mimic the natural flows in the river.

Findley called that “nonsense.” He said the only way to get to a natural state in the river would be to eliminate the system of watershed reservoirs, which he said is obviously absurd.

FUDR has expressed concern about the plan in the past, especially in regards to temperatures in the West Branch and Delaware main stem. On February 28, FUDR issued a news release, which said if the FFMP were put into effect, in the main trout fishing months of April and May, “Only the first six miles of the West Branch would be cool enough for fishing, reducing the entire 50-mile West Branch/main stem fishery to six miles. Absolutely incredible!”

The new plan would retain the standard for a minimum flow of water measured at 1750 cfs at Montague, NJ.

But with additional releases planned from Lake Wallenpaupack, in part to generate more electricity at the dam, there is concern that less water will be required from the Cannonsville Reservoir, which would further contribute to the FFMP’s negative impact to the Delaware River above Lackawaxen, PA and to the West Branch.

There is a second plan being discussed by the commission, called simply CP2, which was put together by a group called the Conservation Coalition. Findley said that plan is also inadequate. He said both plans were generated by outdated methodologies that need to be replaced. For instance, he said, the plans were based on the maximum amount of water that New York City is allowed to take out of the Delaware watershed, which is 800 million gallons per day, rather than the actual amount the city takes, which is about 440 million gallons per day.

FUDR has also proposed a plan, which Findley said would accommodate the needs of all groups involved.

Officials who spoke at the DRBC meeting said that the plan was attempting to balance many competing needs, but the plan had not been finalized. Cathy Curran Myers, Pennsylvania’s representative on the commission, said she fully expected the plan to be significantly revised. And Paul Rush, deputy commissioner of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, said he could “guarantee” that the plan would be changed.

Before any plan can be put into place, it must have unanimous agreement from the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, as well as the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

The DRBC will accept written comments on the FFMP until April 6. Email can be sent to paula.schmitt@drbc.state.nj.us, regular mail can go to Commission Secretary, DRBC, P.O. Box 7360, West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360, or fax 609/883-9522, attention: Commission Secretary.

Contributed photo
Releases from the Cannonsville reservoir are at the center of concern regarding the DRBC’s Flexible Flow Management Plan. (Click for larger version)