Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Upper Delaware River

In past years I canoed the Upper Delaware River more frequently. It is the mountain river supreme with pristine water, gorgeous scenery, great whitewater, and it's often overrun by urban tourists. I plan to spend at least a few days up there this year, perhaps as early as this Wednesday and Thursday.

There are many threats both real and potential looming in the Upper Delaware River including the proposed electric transmission line that could defile the scenic river valley, proliferation of invasive species such as Japanese Knotweed, the town of Deposit dumping raw (chlorinated) sewage from their flood damaged sewage treatment facility and of course flooding in general. At the end of this post I have included a newspaper article from the Wayne Independent that covers flooding issues related to reservoir management. It's worth a read, but first some background on the Upper Delaware River.

Most of the Upper Delaware River is a component of the National Wild and Scenic River System (designated in 1978) and the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) is the oversight body responsible for the coordinated implementation of the River Management Plan for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.

Voting members on the UDC are the State of New York, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and eleven local governments (New York towns and Pennsylvania townships) that border on the Upper Delaware River. The Delaware River Basin Commission is a non-voting member of the Council. The UDC operates under contract with the National Park Service for the oversight, coordination, and implementation of the River Management Plan.

The Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River extends some 73.4 river miles from the confluence of the East and West Branches of the Delaware River, downstream from Hancock, New York, to Railroad Bridge No. 2 near Mill Rift, Pennsylvania. It forms the border between the States of New York and Pennsylvania.

The legislation for management of the Upper Delaware differed from the way most other units of the National Wild and Scenic River System are managed by the National Park Service, most of which are federally owned lands (national parks or national recreation areas). The middle Delaware River is an example of a federally owned and managed wild and scenic river (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area).

Most of the land in the Upper Delaware River corridor remains in private ownership. Federal authority is limited to the river itself as well as a few properties under National Park Service lease or ownership. The Upper Delaware River was among the first so-called "private lands" or "partnership" rivers, as it flows primarily through privately-owned land.

Note that the Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River is similar in that it is overwhelmingly a private lands river corridor (NPS is forbidden under the designation legislation to own and manage the river corridor lands). Unlike the Upper Delaware River the NPS does not even have any regulatory authority on the water in the Lower Delaware W&S River. That responsibility remains with the states (NJ and PA).

UDC to Keep Eye on Lake Wallenpaupack Releases
By PETER BECKER

UPPER DELAWARE - Concerns about the water released from Lake Wallenpaupack during the June flood spilled over to Thursday night's Upper Delaware Council (UDC) session in Narrowsburg.

While the UDC approved a letter expressing desire to see the larger New York City reservoirs on the Upper Delaware be used for flood protection, more of the discussion focused on PP&L's Lake Wallenpaupack. The latter also empties into the Delaware by way of the Wallenpaupack Creek and Lackawaxen River.

Record setting levels on the Upper Delaware were set by the extended storm of June 24-28. It was the third major storm in two years sending the Delaware and its tributaries over their banks, crumbling infrastructure and threatening or claiming life and property. The others were in September 2004 and April 2005. Over 15 inches of rain fell in some areas.

Larry Richardson, UDC's representative for the Town of Cochecton, urged that the Council focus more attention on Lake Wallenpaupack and releases PPL allows, as UDC did when PPL was pursuing renewal of their federal permit to operate the hydroelectric plant served by the lake.

The UDC was represented at a public meeting July 19th held by PPL at the PPL Environmental Learning Center, where approximately 75 people gathered to discuss the flood release and PPL policies. Gary Petrewski of PPL offered an hour long presentation, followed by a lengthy and sometimes heated question and answer period.

At 3:30 a.m. on June 28, PPL opened the dam's spill gates and let out up to 60,000 gallons per second into the Wallenpaupack Creek. Pressure from the water squeezed ground water, which seeped into residents' basements. Thomas Zeterburg of Lackawaxen and a member of the Pike County Planning Commission, was especially pointed, referring to PP&L's operation of the dam as a “weapon of mass destruction” which tore out trees and guard rails, and damaged historic structures in the village of Lackawaxen.

Stephen Barnes, Town of Highland, asked at the UDC meeting why the electrical utility did not release water gradually over the several days when the storm was forecast, rather than letting it out all at once with such destructive force. He echoed comments made at the July 19th meeting.

At the PPL meeting, Petrewski replied that the National Weather Service did not predict the severity of the storm which actually occurred. Reducing the lake's water level, he said, could hurt the recreational and environmental value to the area. Petrewski said that the release was necessary because the lake level had reached the top of the dam, and to allow it to spill over could compromise the integrity of the dam and lead to worse damage.

PPL officials agreed they were willing to work with local governments to change the priorities of the company's interests and prevent flood damage in the future. PPL had released water during the major storm in April of 2005, which did damage to the railroad trestle at Hawley and other points downstream.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) utilizes Lake Wallenpaupack as part of their drought plan. Comments made at the recent UDC Project Review Committee meeting advised that the DRBC take another look at the lake level program since the collection of extra water and then releasing it like this, has an impact on both the Lackawaxen and Delaware rivers.

UDC approved a letter to the New York City Department of Environmental protection, which owns and maintains the Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink reservoirs feeding the Upper Delaware, for water supply purposes. The letter again urged the City to find ways to better utilized dedicated voids in these three reservoirs; raise the levels of the spillways to make more storage room on top to accommodate more flood waters; and continue to work with agencies to reduce flood levels and their impacts.

The City has already set up a program for the Neversink and Pepacton under an agreement that resulted from past years' flood damage.

Also in the letter, the UDC expressed encouragement about a new source of technical assistance and funding which the Philadelphia District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was recently awarded. The $1 million of federal funds will allow a study of ways to better manage water resources in the Delaware River Basin. Issues to be looked at include long-term sufficiency of water, long-term flow management, flood mitigation and providing timely and easily accessible information to the public. The study was to start in July 2006 and is to be finished by September 2007.

The City is also asked to examine various reservoir-void scenarios showing their impacts below the reservoirs.

At the July 19th DRBC meeting in Trenton, National Weather Service officials said the existence of these reservoirs- including Lake Wallenpaupack- kept the flood from being worse. Without them, the crest of the Delaware River may have been one to 2.5 feet higher.

A U.S, Geological Survey report also contends that it was the major rainfall, not increased land development, which led to the flooding in the Upper Delaware. Between 1973 and 2000, development increased by less than half of one percent of the lands of the Poconos and Catskills, and much of the land is still primarily forest.

The UDC meets on the first Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the their offices on Bridge Street, Narrowsburg, NY. The UDC offices may be reached at (845)252-3022.

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