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Water Saving Measures Kick In: Possible Drought Looms

For Immediate Release

November 25, 1998

(WEST TRENTON, N.J.) - Extremely dry weather since mid-July has prompted the Delaware River Basin Commission to initiate conservation measures to preserve water storage in major reservoirs.

As of today, levels in three huge water supply impoundments located at the headwaters of the Delaware River were 25 percent below normal for this time of year. Flows in the Delaware and in tributary rivers and streams also are well below seasonal averages.

In order to save as much impounded water as possible, the Commission and the parties to a 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decree that apportioned the waters of the Delaware have agreed to throttle back both releases from the reservoirs and withdrawals by New York City.

During normal hydrologic conditions, New York can withdraw up to 800 million gallons a day (mgd) from its three Catskill Mountain impoundments - Neversink, Pepacton, and Cannonsville. In return, it must release sufficient water into the Delaware to meet downstream flow target of 1,750 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Montague, N.J. In addition, DRBC directs releases from lower basin reservoirs to maintain an equivalent flow target of 3,000 cfs at Trenton.

Under the agreement reached last Friday, the flow targets were reduced to 1,655 cfs at Montague and 2,700 cfs at Trenton and New York City's take from its reservoirs was cut to 680 mgd. A water diversion from the Delaware River through the Delaware and Raritan Canal to serve communities in northern New Jersey remains at 100 mgd.

In addition to the new water distribution formula now in play, an "excess release bank" in the New York City reservoirs will not be tapped unless the basin officially enters drought warning. The reserve bank of water, 580 million gallons, is designed to protect cold water fisheries in the reservoirs' tail waters.

The parties to the Supreme Court decree are the four basin states (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware) and New York City. The foundation for modifying the decree was established in 1983 when DRBC adopted the current drought operating plan as recommended by the parties to the decree in the Good Faith Agreement.

The dry weather that began mid-summer followed a wet spring that filled the basin's major water supply reservoirs. But since August significant precipitation deficits have been recorded: in the upper basin (above Montague) the rainfall shortage is 5.6 inches from August 1 through November 25; in the Philadelphia area there's a 7.3 inch deficit for the same period.

Well aware that an official drought warning may be looming, the Commission is calling on the basin's 7.3 million residents to use water wisely in an effort to stretch out existing supplies.

"Hopefully, with the combination of the Commission's actions, wise use of water by the basin's citizenry, and cooperating weather we can avoid a drought declaration," said DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier.

The DRBC got its start on October 27, 1961, the day the Delaware River Basin Compact became law. The compact's signing by President Kennedy and the governors of the four basin states marked the first time since the nation's birth that the federal government and a group of states joined as equal partners in a river basin planning, development and regulatory agency.