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Drought Warning Triggered

For Immediate Release

December 14, 1998

(WEST TRENTON, N.J.) - Dry weather stretching back to mid-July triggered a drought warning today in the Delaware River Basin as storage in three major water-supply reservoirs dipped to unseasonably low levels.

The warning was issued by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) which manages the water resources in the 13,539 square-mile basin, stretching some 330 miles from the Delaware River's headwaters in New York State to the mouth of the Delaware Bay. The Delaware and its tributary rivers and streams drain portions of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York.

As stipulated in the Commission's drought operating plan, a maximum withdrawal limit on water diverted out-of-basin to northern New Jersey was cut back today from 100 million gallons a day (mgd) to 85 mgd. The water flows by gravity through the Delaware and Raritan Canal, which feeds off the Delaware River north of Trenton and joins the Raritan River in New Brunswick.

The persistent dry weather prompted the Commission to implement other measures of its drought plan early in an effort to preserve water storage in major reservoirs.

Under an agreement reached with New York City on November 21, diversions from the city's three huge water supply impoundments in the Catskill Mountains were reduced by 15 percent. Releases from the reservoirs into the Delaware River also were throttled back.

Under normal hydrologic conditions, New York can withdraw up to 800 mgd from the reservoirs - Neversink, Pepacton and Cannonsville. In return, it must release sufficient water into the Delaware to meet a downstream flow target of 1,750 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Montague, N.J., located just downstream of Port Jervis, N.Y. In addition, the DRBC directs releases from two lower basin reservoirs to maintain a flow target of 3,000 cfs at Trenton.

Under the agreement with the city, the flow targets have been reduced to 1,655 cfs at Montague and 2,700 cfs at Trenton and New York's take from its reservoirs has been cut to 680 mgd.

The lack of rain, which followed a wet spring, has not only impacted reservoir storage, but has caused significant decreases in streamflows and ground water levels throughout the basin. There is a seven inch rainfall deficit in the upper basin (above Montague) going back to July 1. In the Philadelphia region, the deficit for the same period is over nine inches.

Along with the operational changes now in effect, the Commission today called on the basin's seven million residents to voluntarily curb non-essential water use, offering these water saving tips:

  • take shorter showers;
  • run dish washers and washing machines only when full;
  • don't let the water run when shaving or brushing your teeth;
  • repair leaks (A leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water a day! To check for leaks, add food coloring to the toilet tank. If the color shows up in the bowl the tank is leaking. Install a new flapper.);
  • take your vehicle to a car wash that recycles its water.

"A little common sense and a cooperative spirit go a long way in any campaign to conserve," noted Carol R. Collier, the Commission's executive director. "Hopefully, we can get through this latest water shortage with, at most, just a slight bit of inconvenience."

Ms. Collier noted that we often take water for granted in this country. "In some foreign lands the water comes on at seven in the morning and is turned off at four in the afternoon, and even then it may not be fit to drink," she said. "That's a real hardship, hardly comparable to a short shower."

The DRBC's drought operating plan focuses on salinity intrusion - the upstream migration of salty water from the Delaware Bay during low-flow conditions in basin rivers and streams.

The salt-laced water, known in water jargon as the "salt front," is defined as the seven-day average 250 milligram per liter chloride concentration. Since August 1 of this year the salty water has moved 15 miles upstream and now is located at River Mile 85, about three miles upstream of Chester, Pa., and about eleven miles above its average location for December.

As the front moves upriver it increases corrosion control costs for surface water users, particularly industry, and has the potential of raising sodium levels in a large aquifer underlying southern New Jersey which is used for municipal water supply. The aquifer is recharged in part by the river.

In recent dry years, salty water also has migrated into streams and creeks in Delaware, threatening water supplies in northern New Castle County.

The drought warning issued by the Commission today is the official first step in its drought management plan. Should conditions worsen and a drought emergency be declared, mandatory water-use restrictions would most likely be imposed with a goal of reducing consumptive water use by 15 percent. The out-of-basin diversions by New York City and New Jersey also would be further reduced, as would the Montague and Trenton flow targets.

The drought warning and drought emergency triggers are tied to the combined storage levels in the three New York City reservoirs. As of today, combined storage was 110 billion gallons or 41 percent of the reservoirs' 271 billion gallon capacity. Normal storage for this time of year is 176 billion gallons or 65 percent of capacity.

Once combined storage in the reservoirs drops below a designated level depicted on a "drought warning rule curve" and remains there for five consecutive days, the basin automatically enters the drought warning mode. Storage levels fell below the line last Wednesday. Further significant declines into a "drought zone" trigger drought emergency actions.

The basin has entered into drought warning ten times since the early 1980s when the Commission's drought management plan was adopted. Two times, in 1981 and 1985, conditions worsened and drought emergencies were declared. The last drought warning occurred in October of 1997 and lasted less than three months.

In addition to releases from the three New York City reservoirs, 4.16 billion gallons of water have been released this summer and fall from Beltzville Reservoir on the Lehigh River and Blue Marsh Reservoir on the Schuylkill River to improve flows, enhance water quality, and protect fisheries. The releases also help to repel salinity.

And, with the drought warning now in effect, a consortium of seven electric utilities in the basin are required, when flows drop below 3,000 cfs at Trenton, to direct releases from Merrill Creek Reservoir to make up for evaporative losses at their riverbank generating stations. The 16-billion gallon impoundment is located near Phillipsburg, N.J.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection on November 8 upgraded 13 counties from a drought watch to a drought warning. An additional 13 counties were placed under drought warning on December 3. The remaining 41 counties in the state remain under a drought watch.

The following counties in Pennsylvania fall entirely within the Delaware River Basin: Bucks, Delaware, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, and Pike.

Pennsylvania counties that fall partially within the basin: Berks (99%), Carbon (99%), Chester (80%), Lackawanna (9%), Lancaster (1%), Lebanon (5%), Luzerne (10%), Schuylkill (43%), and Wayne (96%).

The following New Jersey counties fall entirely within the basin: Cumberland, Salem and Warren.

Those partially in the basin: Atlantic (4%), Burlington (55%), Camden (50%), Cape May (33%), Gloucester (83%), Hunterdon (35%), Mercer (70%), Monmouth (25%), Morris (13%), Ocean (20%), and Sussex (67%).

There are no counties in New York State or Delaware that are completely in the basin.

New York counties partially in the basin: Broome (2%), Chenango (1%), Delaware (85%), Greene (2%), Orange (15%), Schoharie (1%), Sullivan (95%), and Ulster (15%).

Delaware counties partially in the basin: Kent (65%), New Castle (90%), and Sussex (20%).