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NOAA PORTS Funding At Risk
What Is PORTS?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS) is a decision support tool that improves the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce and coastal resource management through the integration of real-time environmental observations, forecasts and other information. PORTS measures and disseminates observations and predictions of water levels, currents, salinity, and meteorological parameters (e.g., winds, atmospheric pressure, air and water temperatures) that mariners need to navigate safely.

Program objectives are to promote navigation safety, improve the efficiency of U.S. ports and harbors, and ensure the protection of coastal marine resources.

PORTS are presently operational in the following locations:

  • Delaware Bay and River
  • Narragansett Bay
  • Los Angeles/Long Beach
  • New Haven, CT
  • San Francisco Bay
  • New York/New Jersey Harbor
  • Lower Columbia River
  • Tacoma, WA
  • Chesapeake Bay
  • Anchorage
  • Tampa Bay
  • Soo Locks, MI
  • Houston/Galveston
  • Mobile Bay
  • Cherry Point
  • Sabine Neches
  • Pascagoula

(Source: PORTS web site)

What Is The Problem?

DRBC staff learned in March 2013 that the PORTS program that we have come to rely on for real-time tide, currents, and weather information will be defunded in the near future unless action is taken. PORTS is a partnership program that requires local funding. For the past 10 years, the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) has been the local funding partner. PRPA no longer has the financial resources to be able to provide the necessary $300,000 to annually maintain PORTS on the Delaware Estuary/Bay.

This funding scenario means the local contractor who goes out to maintain or repair equipment can no longer do so. The PORTS web site explains that as sensors break or are transmitting bad data, they will be shutoff. If no local funding is found by September 1, 2013, this system will be shut down and sensors removed.

Four sites are considered part of the national network and will continue with their full set of observations: Philadelphia, Reedy Point, Cape May, and Lewes. The impacted sites would be Newbold, Burlington, Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, Marcus Hook, Delaware City, Ship John Shoal, Brandywine Shoal Light, and Brown Shoal Light.

Defunding these real-time monitors has bad implications for water management activities in several areas: navigation safety; water quality modeling and pollution control; and flood damage reduction.

DRBC reached out to PRPA on March 29, 2013 in support of this important regional asset and offered to work cooperatively with the port authority to identify sustainable funding sources. Unfortunately, DRBC's weak financial situation makes it unable to provide funding. PRPA informed DRBC that it has been actively seeking to secure replacement funding sufficient to renew the contract for another year of operation. Alternate funding streams totalling $200,000 have already been identified, with efforts still ongoing to obtain the remaining one-third. Longer term solutions will be explored by PRPA after full funding is found for the current year.

Benefits To Region Provided By PORTS

DRBC has compiled this list to demonstrate the importance of PORTS:

  • The Final Report of the Delaware River and Bay Oil Spill Advisory Committee (pdf 582 KB), published in December 2010, highlighted the importance of the NOAA PORTS system to preventing maritime accidents and associated pollution releases. In fact, recommendation #14 of that report was to "fund the upgrade, continued operation, and maintenance of the PORTS system. That report indicates that PORTS has the potential to prevent shipping accidents and subsequent environmental damage and save millions of dollars in response, restoration, and damage claims. The Oil Spill Advisory Committee was formed after the Athos 1 oil spill in 2004 to identify strategies for reducing oil spill incidents and impacts in the Delaware Estuary.
  • NOAA PORTS stations in the upper Delaware Estuary were critical to monitoring the impact of Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and Superstorm Sandy on tidal flooding in the Delaware Estuary. The geomorphology of the estuary results in an amplified tidal range in the upper portion of the estuary.
  • Monitoring via the PORTS system is critical to the protection of human health and safety.
  • Similarly, the NOAA PORTS system is a key component in the efforts of DRBC's Flood Advisory Committee to develop a coastal storm-surge inundation and forecast system for the Delaware Bay and tidal Delaware River, in cooperation with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the states of New Jersey and Delaware, NOAA/National Weather Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. These efforts would implement a recommendation of the Delaware River Basin Interstate Flood Mitigation Task Force Action Agenda, published in July 2007.
  • DRBC's continuous real-time flow and transport model draws on data from the PORTS system to simulate movement of contaminants during spill events to protect drinking water intakes. Immediately after the recent vinyl chloride release near Paulsboro, N.J., DRBC simulated the plume and coordinated with drinking water intakes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. DRBC subsequently added Mantua Creek segmentation to the model, in coordination with NOAA's Emergency Response Division, and used the PORTS water level data from Marcus Hook and Newbold as well as Philadelphia, to recalibrate the model.
  • NOAA PORTS data is integral to the computation of the location of the salt line in the estuary and subsequent reservoir releases to limit its upstream migration.
  • Docket holders and DRBC staff routinely use PORTS data for dilution studies to evaluate acute effluent impacts on the Delaware Estuary.
  • NOAA PORTS temperature and conductivity data sets are evaluated in the Delaware River and Bay Water Quality Assessment Report to determine if surface water quality standards are being met. In addition, PORTS tidal elevation data is considered in both the planning and reconciliation of water quality monitoring events.
  • DRBC is in the initial phase of developing estuary hydrodynamic and eutrophication models to support development of nutrient criteria. The loss of tidal elevation data from Newbold, Burlington, Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, Marcus Hook, Delaware City, Ship John Shoal, Brandywine Shoal Light, and Brown Shoal Light, along with the loss of current velocities and specific conductance data from a limited subset of stations, will dramatically hamper those efforts.