Thursday, July 06, 2006

More questions than answers

I want to use the comments section of the blog to discuss a question raised by a riparian resident. Sorry, my answer probably raises even more questions.

Re: Reservoirs
Thanks for your very informative blog on this issue.

One issue still bothers me. It was touched on by Mayor Conway at the Delaware Water Gap - The reservoirs may not be the problem, but could they be more effective in being part of the solution? Could(or did)the reservoir managers release water in advance of the flood so as to allow the reservoirs to take in, rather than release water during the peak of the flood?


Thanks for the question Gard:

I believe the issue you raise is a good one and will surely be a point of contentious discussion at the next DRBC public hearing.

All of the record floods of the past hundred plus years fall into two categories: hurricane induced and snow melt/ice jams, except for last week. That was a slow moving tropical depression, sort of a light weight version of Agnes. The time of year may have some bearing on when or how much water to store or release.

There has been discussion about lowering reservoir levels in proportion to the expected amount of return from snow melt. This seems like a no brainer that could limit the impact of an April '05 type event.

On the other hand it takes a long time to lower the NYC reservoirs in a meaningful way, so I am not sure a program of trying to release in advance of a predicted storm would work very well in the spring when NY strives to have its reservoirs full by June.

Let's imagine a scenario where the reservoirs are near full during May and an early big storm is PREDICTED to come up and linger for awhile, and the reservoirs are lowered. And the prediction is wrong and the storm slips out into the Atlantic. Subsequently the region is afflicted by a severe drought. Two million people are running out of water. Or is it 3 million? Too lazy to look that up right now. But the point is that NYC is mightly touchy about how the water supply ponds are managed, just like the trout fishermen are, industry, and of course, the flood victims.

I don't know what the answer is really. But I know "better management" means different things to different and often competing interests. Indeed, better management can be achieved, but any changes, deletions or additions to policy must agreed upon by all four Delaware River Basin Governors and the POTUS too. That is what the basin compact requires.

I may attend the DRBC hearing on the 19th. One point I want to make is that DRBC needs to step up its efforts to educate the public about the reservoir system - not just the NYCs but all of it. But then they probably already know that. The ability of DRBC to do science and education has been compromised by certain entities who have reneged on their agreement to keep DRBC fully functioning (POTUS and Pataki). How ironic! NY takes water from the Delaware, ships over to the Hudson at NYC and they won't even pay their dues. Compassionate conservativism indeed.

There is so much misinformation floating around (hope i am not contributing to it), much of it the result of general ignorance about the how the system functions. Look at what is going on with the Special Protection Waters issue between PA and NJ. And that is a very simple issue compared to floods.

Regarding education about the reservoir system, one thing about the Pocono Record article that made me wonder was the DRBC guy's use of the word "release." My understanding is that the reservoirs were over-spilling, quite a different thing from an intentional release.

Sorry for this semi-rambling answer, but as you know, these watershed issues are interelated.

One more question before retiring to the grill:

I've been following your articles about the Delaware. You're the only source of information that I've found who updates daily. I enjoy reading your stories. My family and I spend a lot of time on the river and the Rancocas Creek. I'm e-mailing you to ask if you know where I can find regularly updated information on water quality. Since the flood, I've seen people in the water, but I want to know if the water is safe before we decide to go back in. Any information would be greatly appreciated.


Thanks Mike.... I know that water quality in the Lower Delaware is very poor right now, maybe like one of those rivers in China. It will eventually clear up, but it will take several days if not weeks. I would ask Delaware Riverkeeper Network if they have a water quality monitor down on the Rancocas. Ask for Faith Zerbe.