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DRBC: Drought Conditions Worsen

For Immediate Release

December 23, 1998

(WEST TRENTON, N.J.) - The Delaware River Basin entered the second stage of drought warning today as storage levels in three major water supply reservoirs located at the Delaware River's headwaters continued to decline.

Under the Delaware River Basin Commission's (DRBC's) drought operating plan, out-of-basin water diversions to New York City and New Jersey were cut back an additional 15 percent and the amount of water released from the three reservoirs into the Delaware River also was further reduced in an effort to stretch existing supplies.

A first stage drought warning was triggered in the basin on December 14 as storage in the three impoundments, which are owned by New York City, dipped to unseasonably low levels. The Commission called on the basin's seven million residents to voluntarily curb non-essential water use. It renewed that call today, emphasizing that water conservation combined with an increase in precipitation could stall or hopefully even prevent a drought emergency.

New York City, which lies outside the basin, draws roughly half its water via aqueducts from its three reservoirs, located in New York State's Catskill Mountains. These impoundments account for about 75 percent of the total surface water storage in the basin.

New Jersey diverts water out of the Delaware Basin, or watershed, through the Delaware and Raritan Canal, which feeds off the Delaware River north of Trenton and joins the Raritan River near New Brunswick.

Under an agreement reached with New York City on November 21, the first conservation measures kicked in: diversions from the city's reservoirs were reduced by 15 percent and releases from the reservoirs into the Delaware River also were throttled back.

Under normal hydrologic conditions, New York can withdraw up to 800 mgd from the reservoirs - Neversink, Pepacton and Cannonsville. In return, it must release sufficient water into the Delaware to meet a downstream flow target of 1,750 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Montague, N.J., located just downstream of Port Jervis, N.Y. In addition, the DRBC directs releases from two lower basin reservoirs to maintain a flow target of 3,000 cfs at Trenton.

Under the November 21 agreement with the city, the flow targets were reduced to 1,655 cfs at Montague and 2,700 cfs at Trenton and New York's authorized take from its reservoirs was cut to 680 mgd.

When the basin entered the first stage of drought warning on December 14, the water diversion from the Delaware River to northern New Jersey through the D&R Canal was reduced from 100 mgd to 85 mgd.

With the basin now in the second stage of drought warning, New York City's diversion has been reduced from 680 mgd to 560 mgd; New Jersey from 85 mgd to 70 mgd; and Montague streamflow target has dropped from 1,655 cfs to 1,550 cfs.

Recognizing that reservoir storage is declining at a sharp clip, the Commission, as required by law, has scheduled a public hearing for January 5, 1999, to receive input regarding a possible drought emergency declaration. Following the hearing, the five DRBC commissioners are expected to discuss possible mandatory water conservation actions. These actions could kick in immediately, or take effect when reservoir storage drops into the drought emergency zone and remains there for five consecutive days -- predicted now to occur in mid-January if the dry weather persists.

The public hearing is to begin at 10 a.m. in the Goddard Conference Room of the Commission's offices at 25 State Police Drive, West Trenton, N.J.

The Commission also will be notifying large, self-supplied water users in the basin to conduct water audits and prepare drought contingency plans.

The lack of rain that began in mid-July has not only impacted reservoir storage, but has caused significant decreases in streamflows and ground water levels throughout the basin, which drains portions of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. There is a seven-and-a-half inch rainfall deficit in the upper basin (above Montague) going back to July 1. In the Philadelphia region, the deficit for the same period is over 12 inches.

In renewing its call for water conservation, the DRBC is asking residents to voluntarily curb non-essential water use, offering these water saving tips:

  • take shorter showers;
  • run dish washers and washing machines only when full;
  • don't let the water run when shaving or brushing your teeth;
  • repair leaks (A leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water a day.);
  • take your vehicle to a car wash that recycles its water.

"It's essential that we cut back on the demand side and stretch existing water supplies as far as possible," notes Carol R. Collier, the DRBC's executive director. "We can easily conserve on things like prolonged 'teenage showers' and using water guzzling toilets as trash receptacles -- habits we should break immediately and let become part of our permanent lifestyles."

The DRBC's drought operating plan focuses on the use of reservoir releases to control salinity intrusion - the upstream migration of salty water from the Delaware Bay during low-flow conditions in basin rivers and streams.

The salt-laced water, known in water jargon as the "salt front," is defined as the seven-day average 250 milligram per liter chloride concentration. Since August 1 of this year the salty water has moved 15 miles upstream and now is located at River Mile 85, about one mile upstream of Chester, Pa., and about eleven miles above its average location for December.

As the front moves upriver it increases corrosion control costs for surface water users, particularly industry, and has the potential of raising sodium levels in a large aquifer underlying southern New Jersey which is used for municipal water supply. The aquifer is recharged in part by the river.

In recent dry years, salty water also has migrated into streams and creeks in Delaware, threatening water supplies in northern New Castle County.

The stage two drought warning issued by the Commission today is the second step in its drought management plan. Should conditions worsen and a drought emergency be declared, mandatory water-use restrictions would most likely be imposed with a goal of reducing consumptive water use by 15 percent. The out-of-basin diversions by New York City and New Jersey also would be further reduced, as would the Montague and Trenton flow targets.

The drought warning and drought emergency triggers are tied to the combined storage levels in the three New York City reservoirs. As of today, combined storage was 101 billion gallons or 37 percent of the reservoirs' 271 billion gallon capacity. Normal storage for this time of year is 183 billion gallons or 67 percent of capacity.

The basin has entered into drought warning ten times since the early 1980s when the Commission's drought management plan was adopted. Two times, in 1981 and 1985, conditions worsened and drought emergencies were declared. The last drought warning occurred in October of 1997 and lasted less than three months.

In addition to releases from the three New York City reservoirs, over four billion gallons of water have been evacuated this summer and fall from Beltzville Reservoir on the Lehigh River and Blue Marsh Reservoir on the Schuylkill River to improve flows, enhance water quality, and protect fisheries.

And, with the drought warning now in effect, a consortium of seven electric utilities in the basin are required, when flows drop below 3,000 cfs at Trenton, to direct releases from Merrill Creek Reservoir to make up for evaporative losses at their riverbank generating stations. To date, 267 million gallons of water have been released into the Delaware from the 16-billion gallon impoundment, located near Phillipsburg, N.J.

Drought conditions also are being experienced elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Ridge declared a drought emergency on December 16 for 12 counties located west of the Delaware River Basin. Another 52 counties were under a drought warning and three under a drought watch.

In New Jersey, seven northern tier counties were placed under a drought warning on December 14. "Over the past five months our rainfall deficit has grown to more than ten inches," Bob Shinn, commissioner of the state's Department of Environmental Protection, noted at the time. "This is about 50 percent of the average and the situation is not improving."

The drought plans in the four basin states were adopted in 1983 at the direction of the DRBC as part of its newly established water conservation program which recognized the need to reduce the demand side of water supply during water shortages.

While the DRBC's plan applies only to the basin and is tied solely to storage in the New York City reservoirs and at times to the location of the "salt front," the state plans have multiple drought triggers -- incorporating the Commission's operating procedures as they relate to reservoir levels, and looking at additional parameters like precipitation deficits, streamflows, and ground water levels.

The DRBC is responsible for managing the water resources in the 13,539 square-mile basin, which stretches some 330 miles from the Delaware River's headwaters in New York State to the mouth of the Delaware Bay.

The commissioners are the governors of the four basin states and a federal representative appointed by the President.

The following counties in Pennsylvania fall entirely within the Delaware River Basin:

Bucks, Delaware, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, and Pike.

Pennsylvania counties that fall partially within the basin: Berks (99%), Carbon (99%), Chester (80%), Lackawanna (9%), Lancaster (1%), Lebanon (5%), Luzerne (10%), Schuylkill (43%), and Wayne (96%).

The following New Jersey counties fall entirely within the basin: Cumberland, Salem and Warren.

Those partially in the basin: Atlantic (4%), Burlington (55%), Camden (50%), Cape May (33%), Gloucester (83%), Hunterdon (35%), Mercer (70%), Monmouth (25%), Morris (13%), Ocean (20%), and Sussex (67%).

There are no counties in New York State or Delaware that are completely in the basin.

New York counties partially in the basin: Broome (2%), Chenango (1%), Delaware (85%), Greene (2%), Orange (15%), Schoharie (1%), Sullivan (95%), and Ulster (15%).

Delaware counties partially in the basin: Kent (65%), New Castle (90%), and Sussex (20%).


Editors and News Directors: visit the Commission's web site (www.nj.gov/drbc) for daily updates on drought conditions and other drought related material.

Features include:

  • water saving tips;
  • streamflow and reservoir storage figures with graphs depicting the storage in relationship to the DRBC's drought triggers. (The data are upgraded daily and the graphs can be downloaded and used as fresh illustrations for newspaper and TV copy.);
  • monthly hydrologic summary reports;
  • basin state drought links;
  • precipitation data;
  • descriptions of the DRBC's drought warning and drought emergency operating criteria;
  • DRBC drought news releases;
  • a list of the communities located within the basin, a valuable tool to use in localizing your stories.