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Delaware River flow deal on the horizon

Photo courtesy of FUDR

By David Kinney

A new long-term deal is in sight on the Upper Delaware, and its drafters say it would address concerns about the effects of erratic flows and high temperatures on the river’s wild trout fishery.

The broad outlines of the 10-year agreement were announced this week at a meeting of the Regulated Flow Advisory Committee. Technical details are still under discussion and are not publicly available.

If a deal is not reached by October 10, the Upper Delaware could see extremely low flows as the river’s managers revert to policies dating to the 1980s. New York City has been making voluntary releases since June 1, when a temporary agreement expired; city officials would not commit to continuing the releases if a deal is not signed before the October 10 deadline.

The proposed agreement would put in place a new Flexible Flow Management Program to determine how much water is released from New York City’s reservoirs into the Delaware system, and when. Under a 1954 Supreme Court decree, the city and the four Basin states—Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York—jointly manage flows on the river.

For years, Trout Unlimited and our partners, including Friends of the Upper Delaware, have advocated for smarter conservation releases that would help protect and enhance the river’s wild trout population. The river still sees unpredictable “yo-yo” releases, during which water levels fluctuate rapidly, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. In the summer, lower flows and high water temperatures endanger the trout population.

The new plan would include dedicated water “banks” to help mitigate the effects of yo-yo releases and high temperatures. The banks would allow managers to more smoothly ramp reservoir releases up and down, and to control temperatures during heat spells.

Modeling of the proposed plan suggests that it would increase the number of days with flows sufficient to protect the fishery, and would reduce the number of days when water temperature spikes.

The plan also calls for a series of “focused studies” to evaluate ongoing issues and suggest changes to the management program.

TU and our partners continue to urge the Decree Parties to include more opportunities for public input on a program that has such a significant impact on a fishery that, as one of the best on the East Coast, is an economic driver for the region.