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DRBC Declares Lower Basin Drought Warning

For Immediate Release

September 24, 2010

(WEST TRENTON, N.J.) -- The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) today issued a lower basin drought warning for the portion of the watershed downstream from Montague, N.J.

“Low flows in the Delaware River caused by the persistently dry weather conditions over the summer prompted the DRBC to direct releases from the Beltzville and Blue Marsh reservoirs in order to meet the flow objective at Trenton, N.J.,” DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier said.  “During the past several months, we have depended heavily on these releases, thereby reducing the amount of water in those reservoirs to levels that automatically triggered today’s lower basin drought warning declaration.”

“The commission’s lower basin drought management plan calls for sacrifices – less water for the river and less water for out-of-basin diversions.  The commission is acting now to conserve reservoir storage because we don’t know how much longer we’ll need to direct releases from those reservoirs to support low river flows,” Collier said. “Although today’s announcement does not require mandatory water use restrictions, the DRBC joins New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware in encouraging voluntary water conservation actions by our lower basin industries, businesses, and citizens.”

As a result of today’s declaration, the Trenton flow objective is decreased from 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 2,500 cfs.  Further adjustments can be made based on the location of the “salt front.”  Additionally, by unanimous agreement among the parties to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Decree in the case of New Jersey v. New York (Delaware, New Jersey, New York State, Pennsylvania, and New York City), New Jersey’s diversion of water from the Delaware River near Bull’s Island through the Delaware and Raritan Canal is being reduced from 100 million gallons per day (mgd) to 85 mgd.  The declaration gives DRBC the option of calling for releases from PPL’s Lake Wallenpaupack located near Hawley, Pa., if necessary, to supplement future releases from Beltzville and Blue Marsh reservoirs.  Releases also may be required in the future from Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County, N.J. if hydrologic conditions continue to deteriorate.

As of Sept. 23, the Commission had directed the release of over 8.8 billion gallons (bg) of water from Beltzville and Blue Marsh reservoirs combined to meet the Trenton flow objective; when full, these two lower basin impoundments hold a total of 19.5 bg.  Another 3.8 bg has been released from the New York City-owned upper basin reservoirs to meet the Trenton flow objective.  Both Beltzville Reservoir (located on the Pohopoco Creek, a tributary to the Lehigh River in Carbon County, Pa.) and Blue Marsh Reservoir (located on the Tulpehocken Creek, a tributary to the Schuylkill River in Berks County, Pa.) are owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  DRBC pays the Army Corps of Engineers for reservoir storage to be used for directed releases during dry conditions from its Water Supply Storage Facilities Fund.  In addition to flow augmentation, these two reservoirs are used for flood control and recreation.

The DRBC lower basin drought management plan also focuses on controlling the upstream migration of salty water, referred to as the “salt front,” from the Atlantic Ocean through the Delaware Bay into the tidal river.  As the salt front moves upstream along the tidal Delaware River in response to low freshwater flows coming downstream, salinity intrusion can impact public water suppliers and surface water users.  The Philadelphia Water Department and New Jersey American Water in Delran, N.J. both have water supply intakes on the Delaware River upstream of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

New Jersey issued a statewide drought watch on Sept. 8 and Pennsylvania issued drought watches or warnings on Sept. 16 for the 17 counties that are located in the Delaware River Basin.  These actions urge residents to reduce water use voluntarily.  Hydrologic conditions in Delaware have not resulted in a state-declared drought watch or warning at this time, but the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control also is encouraging water conservation by Delawareans.  The basin states' drought management plans look at reservoir storage in addition to other factors like precipitation amounts, soil moisture, streamflows, and groundwater levels.  Municipalities and townships also have their own plans to deal with unique local conditions.

The lower basin drought warning declaration will remain in effect until the storage levels in Beltzville and Blue Marsh reservoirs recover to appropriate levels for thirty consecutive days, unless the commission unanimously agrees otherwise.  Drought information can be found at www.drbc.net.

The DRBC is a federal/interstate government agency responsible for managing the water resources within the 13,539 square-mile Delaware River Basin.  The five commission members are the governors of the basin states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) and the Division Engineer, North Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who represents the federal government.


Contacts: Clarke Rupert, DRBC, 609-883-9500 ext. 260, clarke.rupert@drbc.state.nj.us
Kate O'Hara, DRBC, 609-883-9500 ext. 205, katharine.o'hara@drbc.state.nj.us