Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

Water, water

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 5/5/22

I believe the summer deluge began sometime in July of 2021. Part of that phenomenon had to do with the inordinate amount of rain that we had in the western Catskills during that period.

At the …

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Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

Water, water

Posted

I believe the summer deluge began sometime in July of 2021. Part of that phenomenon had to do with the inordinate amount of rain that we had in the western Catskills during that period.

At the same time, the New York City DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) found it necessary to shut down the Delaware Aqueduct, due to a leak in a tunnel located in the Town of Wawarsing, Ulster County. What that meant was that diversions of drinking water from the Pepacton and Neversink Reservoirs to Rondout Reservoir were discontinued.

As a result, diversion from Rondout Reservoir to West Branch Reservoir in Putnam County was also discontinued. West Branch Reservoir is the direct conduit for the delivery of drinking water from the Delaware system to New York City. Since storage capacity in all of those reservoirs was higher than normal, and because the aqueduct was shut down, the DEP found it necessary to significantly increase releases from the western Catskill Reservoirs, in order to create a void and hopefully prevent downstream flooding.

We shall use Pepacton Reservoir as an example. The normal summer releases would be right around 140 cubic feet per second (cfs). The DEP increased that release to about 1,800 cfs on July 18, 2021. That release was reduced to 300 cfs around July 20, where it remained until September 11. Then the release was gradually increased to 700 cfs, where it stayed until December 4. At that time the release was reduced to 250 cfs, then to 100 cfs on January 16, 2022, where it remained until February 25. On February 26, the release was increased to about 275 cfs and stayed there until March 26 or so when it was increased to about 1,100 cfs. Can we expect the same high release patterns during the summer of 2022?

Keep in mind that Pepacton was at 100 percent of storage in late March of this year. Rain began to fall on or about April 7, 2022 and the reservoir began to spill or continued to spill. On the night of April 8, the flow recorded at the USGS gage at Downsville read 1,700 cfs. By the morning of April 9, that gage read 10,500 cfs. I’m told the area received 3.5 inches of rain overnight.

On the property where we keep our RV, close to the East Branch of the Delaware River, the water level reached the top of the tires on that vehicle. Fortunately, the high water did not enter our camper, so we were very fortunate in that regard.

To complicate matters even more, the DEP has indicated that it will close the Delaware Aqueduct this fall so the aqueduct can be attached to a bypass tunnel that was built under the Hudson River, close to Newburgh. This project, as reported, will take several months to complete, during which time no water will be diverted from the western Catskill reservoirs to the West Branch Reservoir. Construction is scheduled to begin in the fall of this year. Before work on that tunnel begins, the DEP indicated that it will be necessary to reduce the storage capacity in Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink Resevoirs by 30 percent. Part of that void will be created by diverting as much water as possible to the Croton system, in Westchester County, before construction begins.

With the Delaware aqueduct shut down for several months, and with no diversions possible, supervisors for the Towns of Hancock, Deposit and Colchester are concerned about the possibility of downstream flooding. In my view, that is a real issue, when taking into account that a 30 percent reduction in storage in these reservoirs may not be adequate to prevent downstream flooding if significant rainfall or a tropical storm pummels the area.

All that being said, what about the fishing?

Once the DEP increased the release out of Pepacton from 300 cfs to 700 cfs on September 11, 2021, there was no more fishing in the East Branch of the Delaware River. At least not for wading fishermen. The guide boats probably continued on. Looking back, 2021 was the first year in memory that my fishing season on the East Branch ended before mid-October, all because of too much water.

So what does all of this mean for all of us who enjoy fishing the Catskill tailwaters downstream of the Pepacton, Cannonsville and Neversink reservoirs? Right now, based on what I know and what I learned from the DEP, a lot depends upon when the DEP decides to draw the West Delaware reservoirs down. With Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink at full pool and spilling or close to spilling, it looks like a washout to me; another Hendrickson hatch lost or un-fishable.

There are of course the freestones: the Beaver Kill, Willowemoc, upper East Branch and West Branches, and all the various tributaries as backup. But keep in mind that if the tailwaters are un-fishable, pressure on the freestone rivers and streams will increase dramatically.

Then there is the seasonal warming that invariably impacts the freestones, beginning sometime in June and extending into September when those rivers are not fishable. As it stands, it’s not a  pretty picture, but perhaps we’ll luck out? I believe that the amount of rainfall we receive in the Western Catskills in the next few months will play a key role in how the releases will be managed by the DEP and how the tailwaters will fare with regard to the comings seasons, fishing. Now we wait.

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