Delaware River Repetitive Flooding: What a Mess We are In.

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Letter to the Editor

Instead of managing the River according to the “Equitable Apportionment” Doctrine criteria set forth by the Supreme Court in 1954, the DRBC has been persuaded by New York City to put NYC needs first – to the detriment of everyone below the reservoirs. NYC mismanaged their Reservoirs during the 1981 -1983 “drought” and the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) panicked. They came up with Water Code provisions and plans to “protect” NYC DEP management from their mistakes of allowing over-consumption during a heat wave. No conservation measures were instituted and a legacy of everyone along the Delaware River sacrificing blindly for NYC mismanagement of their water system was born.

In 1946, the daily water consumption of NYC was recorded at 1.1 Billion Gallons a day.(NYC Board of Water Supply Annual Report, 1940-1946, pg 72) This was years before the three Delaware River Reservoirs were operational. The demand for water rose dramatically in the ensuing decades. However, due to conservation measures begun in the 1990’s and completed in the 2000’s, usage has decreased substantially. The NYC Daily Water consumption rate recorded for NYC the month of January 2008 is at the same level of 1.1 Billion Gallons. Yet, NYC has not changed it operating principles or practices in over 25 years.

It is time for NYC to optimize it entire water system.

For the past 25 years, the management philosophy of the DRBC assumes that the drought of record starts tomorrow and there is not enough water to go around. This is absurdly and dangerously wrong.

For the past several years, NYC has had all this extra water to play with. They have not been releasing it down river. However, they have changed how and when they withdraw water (diversions) for NYC’s consumption from the Delaware Reservoirs. Sometimes they take little to no waters in diversions. They practically turned off the 100s of millions of gallons of water diversions to NYC one to two months before each flood (04, 05, 06), allowing capacity to fill to 100%. Add in any amount of rain, and is it any wonder the Delaware Reservoirs were spilling millions of gallons weeks before each flood?

The DRBC and NYC have seen the data that proves what the effects of the current total consumption, the levels of capacity and the current pattern of usage does to everyone below the Reservoirs – and everyone but NJ is ignoring it. NJ is insisting that a “re-assessment” based on total system usage be done. NYC, NY State, Pennsylvania and Delaware are objecting.

As far the Delaware River Riverkeeper, Maya van Rossum, is concerned, her goal is to have everyone leave the River – and flooding, man-made or not, is a great way to have that happen. Never mind the facts – tell everyone they are scared, desperate people grasping at straws and tell them the only way to be “safe” is to leave their homes and communities. Hey – it works for her. It certainly does not work for any of us.

It costs everyone in NJ, PA, NY, whether they live on the river or not – 100s of millions of dollars in taxes for infrastructure damage caused by unnecessary, repetitive flooding. She is right about one thing, though: NYC does not need additional storage in their Delaware River Reservoirs. NYC, today, if they optimized their operations on a system wide basis, could satisfy 11 million people with the Reservoir capacities they presently have. If NYC were to optimize their Reservoirs, they could provide 20% Safety Voids, Robust Releases, provide salt line protection to Southern New Jersey, Philadelphia and Delaware water departments and companies and still satisfy their future growth needs. So why do they refuse to optimize their entire Water System?

Even Philadelphia is at risk: The present plan – the FFMP – has a provision in it that takes away the insurance of NYC Reservoir mandatory water releases to keep the Salt Line below the water intake vales of the Philadelphia Water Department. No engineering studies have been performed to prove that removal of this mandate will not jeopardize Philly’s water supply. Abolishing this fail safe is absurd – and, given the abundance of water, completely unnecessary.

How can Governor Rendell allow his City to be put at risk when NYC won’t even agree to a System Wide Assessment based on usage? Why isn’t Governor Rendell insisting on it? If NYC optimized it’s whole system, his state would be protected from unnecessary flooding.

I’m mad as hell. How about you?

JB MacKai

Aquatic Conservation Unlimited