River commission gets serious about climate resilience

But environmentalists want more prevention in its plans

Posted 6/14/24

River commission gets serious about climate resilience

But environmentalists want more prevention in its plans


NARROWSBURG, NY — Environmentalists pressed …

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River commission gets serious about climate resilience

But environmentalists want more prevention in its plans


NARROWSBURG, NY — Environmentalists pressed hard: Let climate change guide every decision you make.

Climate resilience helps people adapt to the changing climate. And it was top-priority business for the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) at its annual meeting, held June 5 in Narrowsburg.

Sean Mahar, interim commissioner of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), started things off. “We have to make a lot happen for climate resilience,” he said at the top of the meeting.

Later, DRBC members unanimously agreed to create the commission’s first-ever climate resilience program. Many environmental advocates lauded the move. But they also urged the commission to adopt greater protections.

Many of those who spoke at the June 5 meeting insisted that the DRBC not just adapt to climate change but act to prevent it. Pointing to applications on the DRBC docket, they urged members to deny any project that would contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

“All these projects must be scrutinized for impacts on climate,” said Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network during the public comment session.

Wes Gillingham, associate director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, reinforced Carluccio's point. In a statement released immediately after the meeting, he said, “Every application for water withdrawal, sewage treatment plant or subdivision needs to be looked at with a climate crisis lens. We are in a new era and all our agencies need to respond now, not when it is too late—we are already living with that mistake.”

The DRBC’s climate resilience plan will focus on the water systems in its jurisdiction. The increased rainfall brought about by climate change degrades water quality and makes floods more common. The sea-level rises caused by melting glaciers push saltwater upstream, requiring ever-greater freshwater releases to push it back down.

Kristen Bowman Kavanagh, deputy executive director of the DRBC, said Resilience NJ and the Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, among other local environmental groups, are “generally supportive” of the resilience plan.

However, although the commission initiated a process to develop a climate resilience plan, which could include associated rulemaking and policies, the commission did not identify specific plan components and made no reference to project review. This issue, among others, will be evaluated as the plan and any accompanying regulations and policies are developed. 

 She stressed that the DRBC “does not set energy policy for the region, member states, or the nation,” and is limited in what it can do.

How will they decide?

It is unclear how the DRBC will determine the extent to which a project on its docket will affect global warming. Before adjourning, commissioners approved an application by BlueTriton Brands, a water bottler that withdraws up to 9.3 million gallons a month from three springs in Lehigh County that have been designated by the PA Department of Environmental Protection as Exceptional Value springs supporting Cold Water and Migratory Fishes. BlueTriton’s products, which include Poland Spring and Deer Park, are packaged in plastic bottles, which are made from petroleum. Their products must also be refrigerated and transported. All of this requires carbon-emitting energy. In addition, water extraction by bottlers may exacerbate droughts, which themselves are a result of climate change.

In 2021, Earth Island Institute sued BlueTriton for “significant and ongoing contributions to plastic pollution.”

BlueTriton says it has a plan with a 2030 goal to replenish all its water in “priority regions," make all of its packagings from recycled materials and reduce emissions from processing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has outlined the threats that climate change poses to the Delaware River Basin, among them, energy generation and “industrial processes.” Both are categories of application that the DRBC reviews for approval. Natural gas development and electric generation/cogeneration are both under the commission’s purview.

In February 2021, the DRBC voted to outlaw fracking, which involves drilling deep fissures in shale to produce natural gas.

The rulemaking amendments that the DRBC adopted on June 5 do not mention climate.

Farmer raises existential threat

The DRBC meets once a year in one of the hundreds of river towns along its 300-mile length, and this year was Narrowsburg’s turn. Representatives from the commission’s four member states—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, plus the United States and the DRBC itself—came to the Tusten Theatre do some business and hold a public comment session. The session was neither a formal hearing nor a legal requirement. But the reps agreed to open the floor to anyone who wanted to speak.

Iris Gillingham of Wild Roots Farm in Livingston Manor has been farming since 2006. She first realized the effects of climate change in 2006, when a flood washed all the topsoil from her family farm downstream. She talked about the ordeal of farming through extreme drought and excessive rainfall alike, and even tornadoes.

“Climate change is already sending farmers into a tailspin,” she told the DRBC. "Everything we have been passed down from generation to generation, of how to work with the land that we know, it’s a new slate, an entirely new slate.”

Eugene Thalmann, Catskill Mountainkeeper’s food and agricultural advisor and manager of the Liberty Farmers’ Market, said food production depends on a reliable water supply, but that farmers’ wells are being affected by industrial expansion.

Gillingham said of the DRBC’s decision-making: “Our food system depends on it.”

Other concerns

Radioactive waste: Barbara Arrindell, director of the Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS), said enforcement was lacking in cases where “radioactive waste being dumped on roads.” A brine composed of heavy metals and radioactive materials has long been used in Pennsylvania to keep down dust on rural roads. Oil and gas producers--the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, Pennsylvania Independent Petroleum Producers, and the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Coalition--signed a June 5 letter opposing a bill that would bar the spreading of brine, which they say was proven safe by a 1996 study and is the only economical option for rural localities.

Warehouses: Beth Hurley of the grassroots group Love Kidder Township in Pennsylvania spoke about the proliferation of warehouses in the basin, including four coming to within a two-mile stretch of State Route 940 near her home. She said developers take advantage of weak zoning laws. She pleaded with the commissioners to use the expertise at their disposal to “make fact-based decisions. Don’t be afraid.”

Lake contamination: Linda Reik has lived in Livingston Manor since her retirement 10 years ago. She said the eight lakes near her house are contaminated with aquatic invasive species because kayakers do not clean their boats between uses. “It’s a very real threat to our lakes,” she said.

Emergency services: Jennifer Canfield of Damascus, PA, asked for “more support of emergency services in light of climate change.” Local towns are “strapped,” she said, and “longtime services are getting cut,” lengthening the time it takes first responders to arrive on the scene of climate change disasters like fires and floods.

Camp FIMFO: Several speakers spoke out against the Camp FIMFO resort proposed for the Town of Highland. For more about this project, see related story, "Where will they stay?"


“Delaware River Basin Commission to develop its first climate resilience plan”: https://tinyurl.com/yfm2r7j3

DRBC docket: https://tinyurl.com/mryd9an3

“Resolution directing staff to develop a climate resilience plan”: https://tinyurl.com/3535jpku

“BlueTriton Brands hit with deception suit over sustainability”: https://tinyurl.com/ejvza9t2

“BlueTriton Brands extends environmental plans with new 2030 Impact Goals in Water, Climate and Packaging”: https://tinyurl.com/mvk63kky

“Climate change effects on forests, water resources, and communities of the Delaware River Basin”: https://tinyurl.com/4ya5vvyu

DRBC Comment and Response Document June 5, 2024: https://tinyurl.com/3j27ctuk

(This article was edited on June 22 to indicate that the Delaware River Basin Commission, in their rule-making on June 5, did not identify specific plan components and made no reference to project review through its Climate Resiliency Plan. This issue, among others, will be evaluated as the plan and any accompanying regulations and policies are developed. )

Narrowsburg, climate change, climate resilience, Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), Sean Mahar, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), greenhouse gas emissions, Tracy Carluccio, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Wes Gillingham, Catskill Mountainkeeper, sewage treatment, subdivision, climate resilience plan, floods, Kristen Bowman Kavanagh, Resilience NJ, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, BlueTriton Brands, Lehigh County, PA Department of Environmental Protection, Poland Spring, Deer Park, plastic bottles, Earth Island Institute, U.S. Department of Agriculture, fracking, natural gas, farming, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, United States, Tusten Theatre, Iris Gillingham, Wild Roots Farm, Livingston Manor, drought, rainfall, tornados, Eugene Thalmann, radioactive waste, Barbara Arrindell, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS), brine, Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, Pennsylvania Independent Petroleum Producers, Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Coalition, warehouses, Beth Hurley, Love Kidder Township, State Route 940, Linda Reik, Livingston Manor, emergency services, Jennifer Canfield, Damascus, Camp FIMFO, Highland


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