3/22/2004 -- Hancock, NY -- National conservation organization Trout Unlimited (TU) today announced it will seek changes to a proposal that will govern water releases from New York City reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains to better protect the Upper Delaware River and its tributaries. TU also indicated it would support the proposal if its suggested changes are implemented.
The proposal -- negotiated between New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the reservoirs, and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation -- reserves water in the reservoirs to meet temperature targets to protect trout and meet minimum flow targets on the West Branch Delaware, East Branch Delaware and Neversink River.
The proposal must be approved by all four member states of the Delaware River Basin Commission. If passed, it will govern flows in the rivers for the next three years, while studies are conducted to develop a long-term solution to flow problems that have long plagued the rivers.
“The interim flow proposal is a good start, and we greatly appreciate the work that went into developing it,” said TU Eastern Conservation Director Leon Szeptycki. “But we need to see some key improvements in the proposal to ensure that the rivers are really protected.”
Among the aspects of the proposal that need to be improved:
1. There are too many restrictions on the “habitat bank,” water set aside to protect habitat and cool the river for trout, and it is not available at critical times of the year. Fully flexible use of the habitat bank must be guaranteed to maximize its benefits in years with widely varying weather conditions.
2. The proposal includes an “amelioration bank” of water to offset changes in releases out of the reservoirs that will follow the relicensing of the downstream Lake Wallenpaupack hydroelectric facility. This amelioration bank is only available in drought conditions, and should be made available in all conditions to eliminate risks posed by these flow changes. If it were to be made available, it could address the slight drop in flows on the West Branch that is predicted under the Wallenpaupack dam’s new license.
3. The proposal should include procedures for making more water available for conservation releases during years when weather conditions and reservoir levels warrant it.
4. The proposal should deal with how rapidly releases from reservoirs can be altered, to minimize the effects of sudden rises and drops in water levels near the dams.
“TU’s primary goal in Upper Delaware flow management is to find a lasting solution that will enhance the health of all the tributaries in the Upper Delaware River system,” said TU Catskill Coordinator Rocci Aguirre, “while balancing human and ecological needs.”
Aguirre noted that the proposal does contain some steps forward, which he applauded.
For example, he indicated that TU strongly approves of the provisions for higher minimum flows in the East Branch and Neversink, and of the increase in water available under the habitat conservation bank.
“Every year, the East Branch and the Neversink receive a tiny percentage of their natural flow,” said Aguirre. “Even modest increases in year-round minimum flows in these rivers could hugely benefit trout and other species.”
TU also greatly appreciates the work that went into increasing the habitat conservation bank. While even the new, augmented bank is not enough water for a long-term solution, we hope the increase in the conservation bank is a first step forward in the more difficult process of achieving fundamental changes in the flow regime that will dramatically improve the health of the Upper Delaware.
Mission: Trout Unlimited is North America’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization, dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. The organization has more than 130,000 members in 450 chapters in North America.