Wednesday, February 28, 2007

High Water Alert...

The National Weather Service has issued a "Statement as of 3:45 PM EST today... Flood Watch in effect from Thursday evening through Friday evening... "

AccuWeather also has its own take on the situation as illustrated by their nice graphic at the top of the page.

It looks like the lower Delaware River Basin will get all rain, between 1 and 2 inches. But the upper Delaware might get freezing rain and snow, and if so that will reduce the potential for flooding on the tributaries up there. Most of the snow is melted away here in the piedmont region, but the upper watershed has a fair amount of snow pack and the river has a normal amount of ice clogging it.

As the NWS puts it: "The ground remains frozen in many areas. This frozen ground, in combination with a very ripe snow pack in some locations and heavy rain, could cause flooding in low lying areas and small streams from the Poconos south to northern Maryland and Delaware, and east into central New Jersey. River and stream ice could add another complexity to the situation as water levels rise and the ice begins to move."

A "very ripe snowpack" is an intersting way to put it.

Right now the Delaware River at Belvidere (and othe locations) is running a little below normal for this time of year.

In my opinion it would be better if the upper watershed received rain to wash away some of the "ripe snow pack" and decrease potential for flooding on any subsequent storm. The river could easily take a few inches of rain without going out of its banks, although that may not be so for some tributaries.

About half the record Delaware River floods have occured as a result of heavy rain on top of frozen ground, snow and ice, the most recent example being April 2005. The other half have been caused by hurricanes or tropical storms. (See the July 11 2006 post)

I believe we'll get through this season without any significant flooding.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Flexible Flow Management?

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is proposing amendments to its Comprehensive Plan to establish a Flexible Flow Management Plan (FFMP) for the New York City Delaware Basin Reservoirs for "multiple objectives."

While it would be fair to say that the recent floods were a catalyst for the proposed amendments, the DRBC must consider a host of competing interests including water supply and drought mitigation, fisheries management, spill mitigation (flood control), salinity repulsion in the tidal river (a drinking water concern for Philadelphia and Camden), conservation flows, endangered species (dwarf wedge mussel, sturgeon), estuary and bay ecological health, and even recreational boating (whitewater releases) will be evaluated.

The main issue is New York City -- they depend on their three big Catskill reservoirs for drinking water. Put another way, NYC hijacks billions of gallons of water from the Delaware River and pipes it to the Hudson River watershed to supply a thirsty populous, which is supplied by an old, leaky system. At least a decade ago, NYC engineers learned that the Delaware Aqueduct, which pipes about a third of the city's water from the three Catskill reservoirs, is hemorrhaging up to 36 million gallons a day from major leaks at the point where the aqueduct tunnels under the Hudson River. The Hudson Riverkeeper believes the loss could be as high as 100 million gallons a day.

NYC is not the only thirsty water thief. New Jersey is allowed up to 120,000,000 gallons per day (not to exceed 100 mgd monthly average). They accomplish this out-of-basin transfer through the quaint Delaware and Raritan Canal. That is the purpose of the Bulls Island Wing Dam, to divert water into the canal and send it to New Brunswick (Raritan Basin).

The New Jersey water diversion is a drop in the bucket compared to NYC, which may withdraw up to 800,000,000 gallons per day. The three NYC water supply reservoirs were not constructed for flood control, rather they were intended to see the NYC region through periods of drought. The only way these reservoirs can be used to mitigate potential flodding is to keep a large enough void to absorb a signicant amount of rainfall, without creating a potential shortage if a drought were to occur.

The fact that NYC and the four basin states (plus the federal government) are moving forward to revisit these complex issues is a positive sign. Indeed, the Delaware River Basin Commission exists for that very purpose, to create a scientifically sound basis for meeting a complex set of competing interests and concerns.

President Kennedy and the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York signed legislation creating the DRBC in 1961, making it the first regional governing body in the nation with the force of law to oversee a unified approach to managing a river system without regard to political boundaries.

A viable and adequately funded DRBC is needed . Over the past several years Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have shouldered the financial burden for keeping DRBC afloat. Unfortunately, and one could say ironically, New York has not lived up to its commitment to pay its fair share, and the the US Congress has reneged on paying its DRBC dues going back to Newt Gingrich's "Republican Revolution" of 1994.

Update: the NYC reservoirs have been lowered from last month's 96.9% of capacity to 88.9% as of February 23, and the snow pack is still well below normal; good news for residents of the Delaware River floodplain.

After a few pages of "WHEREAS" here is how the proposed "Flexible Flow Management Plan" is summarized:
"BE IT RESOLVED by the undersigned Commissioners and Decree Parties: A Flexible Flow Management Program is hereby established, whereby the Decree Parties shall manage diversions and releases. The FFMP is designed to provide safe and reliable supplies of water essential to serve the needs of customers who depend on water from the City Delaware Basin Reservoirs, the Delaware River, or its tributaries affected by the reservoirs, to manage discharges from the City Delaware Basin Reservoirs, to provide flows and temperatures in the tailwaters to help sustain cold water fisheries, and to provide flows in the main stem and the bay to help protect ecological health, support withdrawal and nonwithdrawal uses, and repel salinity. The FFMP incorporates the elements provided below, recognizing that various elements may require further study and investigation either prior to or during implementation and that some elements may therefore be implemented prior to others. It is also recognized that other elements may be added in the future, when or if identified. Addition of, or modifications to, elements of the FFMP may require adjustments or modifications to other prior established elements."

Two public hearings on the proposed "Flexible Flow Management Plan" will be conducted at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. respectively on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 at the Lake Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center in Hawley, Pa. Written comments will be accepted by DRBC through April 6, 2007. Comments can either be emailed or snailmailed.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

From Canaan Valley river issues

Blackwater Falls, Davis West Virginia

Returned refreshed from a Presidents Day retreat to Canaan Valley, West Virginia. It snowed non-stop Saturday morning through Sunday evening. The valley is the headwater of Blackwater River, which runs to Parsons, joining Red Creek and Shavers Fork to form the Cheat River. My mother's family (Parsons) lived along the Cheat for several generations on a fine bottomland farming valley in Holly Meadows, which is just a few miles downstream from Parsons, Tucker County Seat. The Cheat flows north, joining the Monogahela River, which is joined by the Youghegheny River in S.W. Pennsylvania. The Mon meets the Allegheny River in Pittsburg, forming the mighty Ohio River. Both the Cheat and Yough are premier whitewater destinations.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (see my links list) is entering critical hearings and negotiations over an array of reservoir release and flow management issues, most recently made more urgent in the minds of many by the three record floods of the past three years. But the releases are managed for multiple purposes and any plan would require the buy-in of all four basin states.

The following is a summary of the issue and the proposed development of a new version of the "Flexible Flow Management Plan" for the New York City - Delaware River Basin Reservoirs. I haven't read it yet, and when I do I'll be providing comments to DRBC on behalf of the American Canoe Association and the comments will appear here for all the world to see.

You can begin getting a handle on this hugely complex issue for yourself by visiting DRBC. Or go straight to the proposal here.

"The Commission will hold a public hearing and accept written comment on a proposal to amend the agency’s Comprehensive Plan and Water Code to establish a Flexible Flow Management Plan (FFMP) for the New York City Delaware Basin Reservoirs (“City Delaware Reservoirs”) for multiple objectives, including, among others, water supply and drought mitigation, management of the reservoir tailwater fisheries and other habitat needs, and spill mitigation. The current reservoir releases program, which was established by Resolution No. 2004-3 in April of 2004, will expire on May 31, 2007. The current spill mitigation program, established by Resolution No. 2006-18, also will expire on May 31, 2007. The Commission will also accept comment on alternative reservoir management strategies that may be adopted in the event that consensus on the proposed FFMP is not reached. The alternative reservoir releases options to be considered are extending the current reservoir releases program or reinstating a previous reservoir releases program plan. Either option would be considered in combination with a seasonal spill mitigation program or an annual spill mitigation program for the three reservoirs. The releases program adopted in the event consensus is not reached on the FFMP would continue in effect until any expiration date contained in the program adopted or unless and until replaced by another program that has been approved by the Commission following a notice and comment rulemaking process. In accordance with Section 3.3 of the Delaware River Basin Compact, any program affecting the diversions, compensating releases, rights, conditions, and obligations of the 1954 Supreme Court Decree (link to the Office of the Delaware River Master's web site) in the matter of New Jersey v. New York, 347 U.S. 995, 74 S. Ct. 842 also requires the unanimous consent of the decree parties, which include the states of Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the City of New York."

Good luck and good night!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Worst is over...until next nor'easter

View of the icy Delaware River at top of Hendrick Island - Valentines Day 2007

Preliminary reports from locations upriver indicate that a few areas may have received around 10 inches of grainy snow, but most of the watershed received 5" or less. The NOAA Satellite Information Service maintains "US Snow Monitoring" maps that indicate one-day snowfalls; data for Feb. 14 is not in yet. All-in-all we fared well with this nor'easter.

For now it's back to the deep freeze. Here's to hoping that the next few weeks will bring moderate temps and some slow melting of all that water that is now covering the landscape in a variety of frozen forms.

In a few days we are heading to Canaan Valley, West Virginia, which is high up in the Allegheny Mountains and surrounded by Monongahela National Forest, and features the nationa's newest wildlife refuge "Canaan National Wildlife Refuge." Joining my Parsons cousins for a memorial service for my late cousin Jack of Portland Oregon, and a celebration of Aunt Ginny's 95th b-day (Jack's mother), who is a lifelong resident of the valley. They have a fresh foot of snow. Check out the realtime view from Dolly Sods National Wilderness Area. I recommend waiting until tomorrow to visit this US Forest Service webpage, they appear to be in the middle of a snow squall - total whiteout at this hour.

This is arguably the most scenic area in West Virginia. My mothers family (Parsons) were early settlers in Tucker County, which to this day still has but one traffic light, located in Parsons WVA, the County Seat. My father trained with US Army in artillery reconnaissance up in these mountains. They met, they danced, they got married, and he shipped out to England, stepped onto Omaha Beach (fortunately day 2) and traveled all over Belgium, France, and Germany, directing artillery fire at the enemy, some of whom were likely distant relations. Classic WWII tale. I digress. Tucker County WVA, it is very beautiful. In lieu of canoeing, I'll take three days by the fireplace and some snowy adventures!

Monday, February 12, 2007

First winter storm?

Lambertville Shoreline looking upstream at Lewis Island, shot late yesterday afternoon by Sharon Maclean with her spanking brand new Powershot

The way I see it, if the weather forecasters and their myriad computer models are spot on we will be seeing some snow that may ultimately be encased in ice. Elliot Abrams of AccuWeather does a good job of explaining the variables. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, rain? All the above?

The Delaware River at Riegelsville is down to about 3.50' which is fairly low for this time of year. I am not sure what role the ice in the upper Delaware may be playing in the water level down here in the lower Delaware. Tributary streams are low too. This is all good as we look toward the end of winter. Better to have low water levels when so much water is frozen and slowly accumulating on the landscape.

Sharon took a trip to NYC to check out an exhibit at the Guggenheim and that was the main excuse to visit the big camera store and purchase her fist digital. I promise I won't drop it in the river. It's a Canon Powershot, almost feels like a real camera, 8 pixels and great zoom, even accomodates a telephoto lens and tripod, does manual settings (not for me).

Speaking of photographs, visit Siobhan Royack's Red Bridge Studio website. She is a great photographer, one of her pics hangs in the bedroom (it features one of my canoes). Siobhan and her hubby Mark live along Cooks Creek in northern Bucks Co. I am partial to her wildflower greeting card selection. Visit now and order a pack.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

SIX WEEKS...until spring. Brrrr....

The above pic is from the Delaware River Basin Commission website, no photo credit appears, but I have my suspicions. Thanks DRBC! It was taken February 5, 2007 on the banks of the Delaware at Washington Crossing State Park (NJ side). On February 6 the river was even more choked with ice at New Hope.

I have added a new link to the blog: George and Leona's Delaware River Access Survey. It is found on the National Canoe Safety Patrol - Lower Delaware Chapter website. It is an outstandingly remarkable online resource for river access information, containing many of the major river access points between Hancock, NY and Marcus Hook, PA, which is way down tidal Delaware River. Most accesses include photographs and nifty aerial photos that show detailed road information. It's a work in progress and a project that I hope to assist them with by providing a few photos and editorial comment. Check it out and bookmark it!
My canoes have been dry docked in Wally's barn up in the highlands of Holland Township, Hunterdon County. They will stay there until the ice melts, or at least until the air temp gets back above 4o degrees f. I really miss being out on the river, it's such a treasured sanctuary.

As the arctic winds howl and the river clogs with ice there is comfort in the fact that spring is merely a month-and-a-half away. Now is the time for communities along the river and its flood-prone tributaries to begin paying attention to river and reservoir levels, ice buildup and snow pack in the upstream watersheds.

Right now the prognosis looks pretty good as to what impact the '07 spring thaw might have on the river and tributaries. On the other hand, it's really too early to tell. The rosy outlook could wilt with sustained frigid temps, huge ice jams, and a few big snow storms followed by heavy rain and a sudden snow meltdown. Nobody wants another flood scenario like January 1996 (ice jams-rainstorm- big snowpack) nor an April '05 scenario (light snowpack and back-to-back heavy rainstorms).

The prime sources of information to maintain awareness about the river and its tributaries include the Delaware River Basin flood information page and National Weather Service, the later which collects icejam and snowpack data for its "Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service." And of course there is the Delaware River Journal blog. I keep my finger on the pulse of the river. At all times. It's your one-stop source.

Here is my mid-winter report based on the above resources, as well as several river and creek gages -- and most importantly -- friends who have the good fortune to live in the uppermost reaches of the Delaware Basin -- they see the pristine mountain river and its tributaries everyday. They do the groundtruthing. Thanks!
The Delaware River at Riegelsville has fallen two feet over the past week and is running at or slightly below normal. Similar conditions exist for most of the major Delaware River tributaries including the Beaver Kill, and Callicoon Creek in New York, Lackawaxen River, Shohola Creek, Brodhead Creek, Lehigh River and Tohickon Creek in Pennsylvania, and Flatbrook and Musconetcong River in New Jersey. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the three large drinking water reservoirs located in the headwaters of the two Branches of the Delaware River and Neversink River are near capacity (around 95% full) and slightly above the long-term median. The West Branch Delaware River at Hale Eddy was running several hundred cfs higher than normal at the beginning of February, which reflects an ongoing, albeit modest release from Cannonsville Reservoir.

The Delaware River gages at Lordville and Callicoon , NY are literally frozen, the "cfs" simply reads "Ice." This also applies to many other Catskill tributaries to the Delaware River such as the Beaver Kill and Mongaup River. River ice conditions are near or approaching normal and the potential for buildup exists at all the usual places like Narrrowsburg, Port Jervis, Water Gap, and Trenton, to name a few.

The nearly full reservoirs and ice buildup are conditions that need to be watched carefully, but these are offset by the below normal snow pack. There's only a few inches of snow on the ground in the Pocono and Catskill watersheds that drain to the Upper Delaware River and the Lehigh River. If we escape winter without a significant snow storm the river should be well behaved.

For communties along the Delaware River between Easton and Trenton, the weather patterns over the next six weeks, especially in the upriver watersheds, will determine the nature of the 2007 spring thaw.