Monday, May 31, 2010

Low Summer-like Flow

The Delaware River is running way below the median flow for this time of year, about 2000 cfs. below at the Belvidere gage. The river has that middle-of-summer look to it.

This is a nice level for paddlers who like to hang out along the shelves and rapids, with the rocks providing plenty of interesting play spots.

The tributaries are also low for late spring with the Musconetcong River at Bloomsbury running at a trickle (1.67’ or about 160 cfs.) and the Lehigh River at Bethlehem about 500 cfs. below the median.

I’ll be attending the award winning documentary GASLAND at the County Theater in Doylestown this coming Wednesday, June 2. It will also play EcoComplex in Bordentown on June 3. Don’t miss this opportunity to see an award winning documentary about natural gas drilling and hydrofracing in the Marcellus Shale formation (and other shale formations).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

USGS Water Alert

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has a handy new Water Alert tool for people who want to be automatically kept informed about stream levels, precipitation or really any water measurement data maintained by the agency.

I just signed up to receive stream flow alerts for the Delaware River, Musconetcong River and Tohickon Creek. Each user of the system gets to choose the frequency and parameters for each monitoring station. It can be used as a flood alert tool or to keep a paddler posted on when a particular creek is running at an ideal (or inadequate) level.

If periodic and automatic alerts via email or mobile phone doesn’t appeal, the Water Alert also serves as a useful single stop for surfing through the various stations and parameters.

Water Alert can provide updates on surface water flow and gage height, precipitation, groundwater level, and water quality.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wild River Trip

Paddling through the Delaware Water Gap
he river itself wasn’t so wild, but the trip featured wildly variable weather and about 160 paddlers (representing thirty-some nations), and we ran it through a most scenic section of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and Middle Delaware Wild and Scenic River.

About 120 of the paddlers were 13—14 year old students with a dozen or so teachers, the rest of the paddlers being grizzled members of the National Canoe Safety Patrol.

The flotilla paddled the approximately 32 miles between Dingmans Ferry and the Portland Power Plant. Of course, that’s 32 miles for the most focused and competent paddlers, the rest having paddled many more miles of zigzags, ferries, eddy turns and circles.

This was the 18th year that we’ve run this trip, which is a sobering enough reality. The first students I guided down the river for this school are now over thirty years old (and I had brown hair back the early days). All told we’ve guided about 1,800 students from this school, logging at least 600 miles.

Day one this year was possibly the single most challenging of any of the other 54 days paddled over the history of this project. The students started out with the usual chaotic launch (picture 120 teens in 60 tandem canoes) in a light rain. By lunch break at the Eshbach access the wind and rain picked up in intensity and the air temp fell to 56 degrees, with about a 5-mile paddle down to the Rivers Bend campsite still remaining.

Even some of the Safety Patrol members were suffering from the cold, so we had to be vigilant for signs of hypothermia. Fortunately, nearly all the of the students paid attention to our repeated pleas to wear NO COTTON while on the water, and to pack extra clothing and a rain proof jacket. This helped mitigate the situation, as did our supply of Delaware Raincoats (a black trash bag with arm and head holes).

Once we got back on the water after fueling up the rain continued to intensify but everyone paddled onward to the end; some of the students were even singing (Beatles’ songs no less).

When we got to the take-out campsite the students seemed to perk up enough to set up their tents in the rain, and then the rain stopped in time for supper, only to start again by dark. Everyone slept soundly.

Day two was cloudy and ideal for paddling, especially since there was no headwind when we paddled the infamous two-mile “wind tunnel” between Poxono and Smithfield Beach. The river was smooth as glass. Last year we were faced with a steady 20 mph wind in this stretch (with 30 mph gusts), making for some extremely difficult paddling conditions.

Day three was exquisitely beautiful; it was sunny and with just a hint of a breeze. This class of students survived a brutal first day and they were rewarded with great weather for the remainder of the trip.

I camped at Worthington State Park for the rest of the week and enjoyed hikes to Sunfish Pond (Douglas Trail), Hornbeck Falls, Raymondskill Falls. I also drove up to Grey Towers in Milford PA; it was the estate of Gifford Pinchot and is one of the true "shrines" for the conservation movement.

Some noteworthy sightings: 1 bobcat and 4 black bears (each seen along the Old Mine Road), several bald eagles, an osprey and a mink (unfortunately the later was dead).

It appears that the cold and wet winter/spring may have benefitted the Eastern Hemlock. The trees showed vigorous growth. Could it be that the cold winter knocked back the wooly adelgid? I hope so.

Also noted: the sycamore trees are suffering greatly this year from the fungal disease known as anthracnose. I noticed this problem earlier in the spring here in Bucks County. The trees along the Delaware River across from Worthington State Park are in terrible shape. Fungal spores love to multiply in wet weather - tomato growers beware!

It was wonderful to get out for an entire week in the mountains and forests of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area, and spend three days on the river.

Balm for the soul

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

2010: A remarkably stormy year?

We’ve already experienced an unusually prolific series of nor’easters during the late winter and early spring. Some were in the form of snowstorms while others brought minor flooding to a few creeks within the Delaware River Basin (most notably the Rancocas, which has quite a few intrepid floodplain dwellers along its banks).

The Delaware River itself did not reach flood stage.

Rapidly rising temps in the Gulf of Mexico and a collapsing El Nino are said to increase the potential for several hurricanes this season, or so says AccuWeather (they compared 2010 conditions to the 1998 and 2005 seasons).

Their article goes on to remind us how hurricanes can “cause major disruption to both oil and gas production.” Pffffffft!

How strange that they would say this and never mention the catastrophic oil disaster occurring right now in the Gulf of Mexico -- what will happen if there is an early hurricane in the Gulf?

Nothing good, that’s for sure. The oil slick is growing and moving.

Speaking of oil and hurricanes: In 1972 Hurricane Agnes brought the flood of record for the Schuylkill River (not so for the Delaware). The flood caused the greatest inland oil spill in history. Six million gallons of USED oil washed out of a series of nasty open air storage pits along the river, below Reading, PA. All the people and businesses downstream that were flooded had to deal with oil in addition to the usual silt and raw sewage mixture that is left behind by receding floodwaters.

Back then rivers were catching fire and raw sewage and industrial discharges ran untreated into rivers, lakes and estuaries. Now the Gulf of Mexico is catching fire and thousands of miles of coastline and our greatest fishery are at risk.

These days the Delaware River is running about 1000 cfs below normal at Belvidere. Most larger tributaries like the Lehigh River and Tohickon are running lower than normal, although the Musconetcong River is slightly above and holding its own. Nobody knows what kind of summer we’ll have, weather wise.

We do know that flooding is an important, desirable and inevitable part of the life of a river, and this is especially true for a free-flowing river like the Delaware.

Some people believe we've already reached our quota of Delaware River floods for the 21st century -- that's doubtful, but may we be spared for at least a few more years!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Hold that drill! (and tax it too)

The Delaware River Basin Commission has decided to put off reviewing all permits for drilling in the Marcellus Shale portion of the River Basin until new regulations are developed. This could take up to a year.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has the story.

Meanwhile, HB 2443 has been introduced by Rep. David Levdansky (D-Allegheny and Chair of the House Finance Committee Chair) that would impose an impact fee, or severance tax on Marcellus Shale gas drillers.

Severance Tax revenue would be widely dispersed to the Environmental Stewardship Fund, local municipalities and counties where drilling occurs, the Fish and Boat and Game Commissions, County Conservation Districts, and numerous other programs.

Visit the Delaware Riverkeeper Network for more information on this topic.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Tickled Green…

I'm kind of surprised and 'tickled green' that the Save the Forests bill (HB 2235) passed by such a wide margin (157 to 53). On to the state senate!

Click here for a press release from