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Reservoirs At Drought Levels - Emergency Hearing Scheduled

For Immediate Release

December 3, 2011

(WEST TRENTON, N.J.) - Storage in three large water supply reservoirs at the headwaters of the Delaware River has dropped from drought warning to drought levels, automatically triggering additional reductions in the amount of water released from the reservoirs into the river and the amount diverted out of the Delaware River Basin to New York City and New Jersey.

The reductions are required under the Delaware River Basin Commission's (DRBC's) drought operating plan which is based on storage levels in the three reservoirs (Cannonsville, Pepacton, and Neversink). The impoundments are located in New York State's Catskill Mountains region and owned by New York City.

A public hearing on whether to declare a drought emergency and implement additional water conservation measures is scheduled for December 18th at the commission's offices in West Trenton, N.J.

As of December 3, combined storage in the three reservoirs was 66 billion gallons, over 100 billion gallons below normal, and 24 percent of capacity.

Under the commission's drought operating plan, which has been implemented in stages over the past month, the allowable water supply diversions to New York City have been lowered from a normal of 800 to 520 million gallons per day (mgd), and diversions to northern New Jersey through the Delaware and Raritan Canal have been lowered from the normal of 100 to 65 mgd. In addition, minimum flow targets in the Delaware River have been lowered from 1,750 to 1,350 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Montague, N.J., and from 3,000 to 2,500 cfs at Trenton, N.J.

Smaller cutbacks in the out-of-basin diversions and flow targets automatically took effect on November 4 when falling reservoir storage triggered a drought warning.

"These water-conserving actions in place now save up to 540 million gallons per day of storage in the New York City reservoirs," noted Carol R. Collier, the DRBC's executive director.

Over 17 million people rely on the waters of the Delaware River Basin. New York City, which lies outside the watershed, gets roughly half its water from its Upper Delaware reservoirs.

In addition, Merrill Creek Reservoir, located near Phillipsburg, N.J., and constructed by a consortium of electric utilities in the late 1980s, has been releasing water to the Delaware River to replace evaporation losses caused by power generation. The releases are triggered by operating criteria approved by the commission.

Rainfall is approximately 10 inches below normal for the year in the upper basin. The last five months have been very dry in the central portion of the watershed, particularly in the Philadelphia area, central and southern New Jersey, and in extreme northern Delaware. Southern Delaware has not been as hard hit by the dry spell.

In response to the parched conditions, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania last month declared drought warnings in the Delaware River Basin counties of Chester, Lancaster, and Lebanon, and drought watches in Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Delaware, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, and Wayne counties. New Jersey declared a drought warning on November 21 for the portion of the state located within the Delaware Basin, mainly the counties that flank the Delaware River. New York State has declared drought watches for the eight counties in the Delaware River Watershed – Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Greene, Orange, Schoharie, Sullivan, and Ulster.

Voluntary conservation measures are being requested in these areas, a move that is strongly supported by the commission.

The declarations by the states are based on comprehensive sets of drought indicators including precipitation, storage, and ground water and stream flow levels. The commission's drought plan is unique in that it is triggered solely by declining reservoir storage. The plan is designed to manage river flows to protect aquatic life and control the upstream migration of salty water, which can cause corrosion problems for riverbank industry and increase water treatment costs for municipalities.

"With cooler weather and generally reduced demand for water, the dry conditions are not as noticeable in day-to-day activities as they would be during the summer, " said Ms. Collier. "However, refilling the large reservoirs will require above normal rain and snow during the winter and spring. For this reason, additional conservation measures may be required if rainfall continues at below normal levels."

A drought emergency declaration by the commission on December 18 would enable it to enact special management provisions under its drought operating plan. These special actions are aimed at conserving storage in the regional reservoir system, and to provide for tighter control of salinity intrusion in the tidal Delaware River. They could include directing the use of storage in Lake Wallenpaupack, a hydropower facility located near Hawley, Pa., and the Mongaup hydropower reservoirs in New York State. Additional water could be stored in Francis E. Walter Reservoir, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' impoundment located at the headwaters of the Lehigh River which normally is designated exclusively for flood control.

In addition, Lake Nockamixon, a state-operated reservoir situated in Bucks County, Pa., could be used for supporting the Trenton flow target.

The commission's drought operating plan, which is designed for managing regional storage, complements the plans of the states which respond to local water supply conditions. Reduction in non-essential water use lowers water demand and subsequently will allow for better recovery of ground and surface water systems during the winter and spring period.

The Delaware River Basin Commission is an interstate-federal agency responsible for managing the water resources within the 13,539 square-mile watershed, which drains portions of New York State, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Commission members are the governors of those four states and a federal representative appointed by the President.

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Contact: Clarke Rupert, 609-883-9500 ext. 260