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Gorillas, Trout Fishing, Upper Delaware River
From the 2/27/2004 News Eagle (Hawley, PA) website:
Gorillas, Trout Fishing
on the Upper Delaware
In what geologists call a "classic freestone stream system," the Upper
Delaware River saw its cold water run in deep, narrow channels, filled with
glacial boulders and graded stones for many thousands of years.
Today, besides the heavy silting of the riverbed and wide and shallower
stream channels caused by extensive deforestation in the 19th century, the
Upper Delaware River is now a radically altered river system.
A US Supreme Court decision created that reality.
Simply put the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that New York had the right to
draw millions of gallons of water per day from the Delaware River to satisfy
the drinking water needs of New York City. That decision allowed the use of
three Upper Delaware Watershed reservoirs (One completed in 1953, one
completed in 1954 and the third built from 1955-1967) that help supply New
York City's drinking water and also provide a guaranteed flow in the
Delaware of 1,750 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Montague, NJ.
Managing all of this is the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a
consortium of the States of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and
the federal government.
"ERRACTIC AND LOW"
Eck, who is also Treasurer of a group called Friends of the Upper Delaware
River, echoes his group's major problem with the DRBC management of the
river: "erratic and often low stream flows."
These are created by low and erratic releases from New York City's Upper
Delaware reservoirs, i.e. the one at Cannonsville. These erratic flows "have
placed enormous stress on the river's ecosystem, and the latest proposed
changes to those stream flows can only make that worse," Eck said.
"The reason that this whole thing is so hard for people to grasp is that
when the reservoirs were built, no consideration was ever given to aquatic
life other than lip service," according to Dr. Robert Bachman, former
Director of Maryland's Fish and Wildlife Service,
"It has been only in the past ten years or so that in-stream flows have
begun to be taken seriously," Bachman said, adding: "But if you see the Bush
Administration's take on the Snake River salmon and steelhead and the
breaching of the dams, you can see that some people still don't get it."
What Dr. Bachman and Eck are principally concerned about is degradation of
the habitat for trout in the Upper Delaware. That degradation is caused by
"these erratic stream flows," Eck said, adding:
"One day you can have 2,000 cfs flowing down the river and the next day you
can have 200 cfs flowing down the river."
HIGHER AVERAGE SOUGHT
What the DRBC has proposed is a new lower standard - down to 225 cfs per day
as the bottom end of the flow rate. (See chart on Page One)
Some more history:
The Subcommittee on Ecological Flows (SEF), a subcommittee of the DRBC, has
begun a fairly well publicized three to five year process intended to
develop an overall flow plan for the entire Delaware basin. Of long-term
concern to Friends of the Upper Delaware is that "whatever flows and
releases may be proposed for the protection of the trout will, in the final
presentation, be vetoed by the New York City Department of Environmental
Protection (NYC/DEP), leaving the fishery in considerably worse shape, years
down the road, than it is today," Eck said.
"Further," Eck said, "we strongly disagree with the currently promoted
"interim" 225 CFS flows that are to be put in place for the next three to
five years while these studies are being conducted."
He explained: "Flows differ from releases in that these include all water
(including warm water from tributaries, summer run off, rain, etc.,) coming
to the monitoring point (or flow target). Releases account for only the
critical cold water coming from the dams. The more warm water that is
counted, the less cold water needs to be released to meet even the dangerous
225 cfs target.
"Such a low flow rate would have no cooling effect on water temperature even
as close to the Cannonsville Dam as the Town of Hancock, NY. Far more
importantly," Eck added, "in a summer with high air temperatures, the meager
225 cfs flows could prove lethal for both the trout and insect populations.
"It should also be realized that the arguments for relying on the 225 flows
are based on a study done over two decades ago that was never entirely
implemented. In fact," he continued, "what the study says is a 225 cfs flow
would provide enough water for a few trout to move around in, but would not
provide adequate water or temperatures for a healthy fishery.
"The study goes on to say that even cold water releases of 325 cfs would be
devastating to the fishery. Which begs the question - how could the 225 cfs
be based on this study? Which leads to the question that since there is no
scientific foundation for the 225 cfs, why not use as the interim flow fate
the 600 cfs that the Friends of the Upper Delaware River have been
DOING THE MATH
What a healthy river, and one capable of sustaining a world-class trout
fishery needs in this particular case, Eck said, "is a constant release from
Cannonsville Reservoir of 600 cfs per day, from May 15 through September
And Dr. Bachman says he has done the math to illustrate that accomplishing
this - without negatively impacting New York's water supply - is not only
possible, "it's easy."
Dr. Bachman provided the following data: The total capacity of all three
Upper Delaware reservoirs is 270.8 billion gallons. If one cubic foot per
second equals 646,272 gallons per day, then 600 cfs would equal 387,763,200
gallons per day. For the 120-day period from May through September 15, that
amounts to 46 billion gallons - 48 per cent of Cannonsville's storage, and
17 per cent of total storage in all three reservoirs.
NYC is authorized to divert 800 millions gallons per day, or 292 billion
gallons per year - 108 per cent of the total capacity of all three
"So if all three reservoirs are full on May 15 - and if Cannonsville were to
release 600 cfs continually from May 15 through September 15 with no inflow
at all during this four-month period - the reservoir would be drawn down
less than half way for river purposes, (the trout)," Dr. Bachman says.
"Now what's wrong with this picture?" Dr. Bachman asks rhetorically - and
then replies: "The 'fisheries plan' says it is OK to divert more than 100
per cent of the total capacity of all three reservoirs to NYC, but considers
17 per cent of the capacity too much to protect a world class trout
"And that's absurd," Eck observed.
HEARING NEXT WEEK
Eck said he plans to appear before the DRBC when it brings its regular
meeting to Hawley next week. The points he expects to make on behalf of the
Friends of the Upper Delaware a
"To protect both the wild trout and the cold water ecosystem, we want a
guaranteed 600 cfs release, from the Cannonsville Reservoir, from May 15 to
September 15. We point out that this rate of release not only protects the
fishery, it readily accommodates both wade and drift boat fishermen and in
so doing protects local fishing related economies.
"During the less critical winter months, from September 16 to May 14, we
seek a guaranteed flow of 300 cfs; adequate for preventing anchor ice and
similar threatening problems. To prevent abrupt and dangerous changes in
release rates, we maintain that the transition times of these changes must
be ramped - or gradually changed.
"We seek a guarantee that the water temperature from Cannonsville downstream
to Lordville, not exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit at any time. We maintain that
the new flows being released from the PPL power generating plant on Lake
Wallenpaupack, should not be counted towards the Supreme Court mandate of
1,750 CFS at Montague.
"We maintain that, to prevent silt build up, the Cannonsville releases be
augmented with releases from the East Branch when Cannonsville levels drop
below 30 per cent. Similarly, we call for the locating and correcting of sil
t entering the West Branch and the upper main stem from feeder streams.
"We call for the development of a mutually agreed upon plan for proportional
water release reductions during periods of declared drought. We maintain
that during periods of high water or air temperatures, spillage be offset
with equal amounts of cold water releases.
"And finally, we maintain that current suggestions to remanage or relabel
the waters described above be abandoned and, moreover, these waters
safeguarded with guaranteed consistent releases."
"We're dealing with that 800-pound New York City gorilla," Eck repeats,
adding: "But this is nonetheless something we feel we must undertake - both
for the health of the river and the tremendous fishing economy that the
The DRBC's appearance in Hawley next week will consist of an informational
meeting, beginning at about 2 pm Tuesday, March 2, followed by a public
hearing to include the issues raised in this article.
A second informal conference and public hearing will be held Wednesday,
March 3, beginning at about 3:30 pm. That second hearing will be part of the
Commission's regular general business meeting. The meetings and hearings on
March 2 and 3 are open to the public and will be held at the PPL Lake
Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center, Route 6, Hawley.
Web note: Questions about this article should be directed to the reporter at
. Comments about this article may be put in the form of a
letter to the editor and sent to . The letters policy can
be found on Page 4 of the newspaper, the Opinion Page.
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