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Common Questions about the DRBC

The DRBC web site is extensive, offering a lot of information through its various pages and links. This list of frequently asked questions is a compilation of common questions we get asked, but is in no way exhaustive. Where appropriate, links to additional information on the DRBC web site are provided to learn more.

About DRBC
  • When was the DRBC created and why?

    • The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is a federal-interstate agency created in 1961 by compact legislation signed into law by President John F. Kennedy and the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York (the four basin states with land draining to the Delaware River). The passage of the Delaware River Basin Compact marked the first time that the federal government and a group of states joined together as equal partners on a regional body with the force of law to oversee a unified approach to managing a river system without regard to political boundaries.

    • The Commission was formed in response to major water resource challenges requiring regional solutions: water supply shortages and disputes over the apportionment of the basin's waters, poor water quality and devastating flooding. There was a lack of coordination and cooperation amongst state, interstate and federal agencies, and it was realized that a regional organization was needed to properly and effectively manage the basin's water resources. Learn more.

  • Who are the members of the DRBC?

    • DRBC's five ex officio members are the four basin state governors (Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) and the Division Engineer, North Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who serves as the federal representative. View current Commissioners' listing.

      • The five members appoint alternate Commissioners, with the governors selecting high-ranking officials from their state environmental agencies.

      • The mayor of the City of New York (or his/her designee) is an advisor to the New York State DRBC Commissioner.

      • Annual elections are held for Commission chair, vice chair and second vice chair, based on a rotation of the five signatory parties.

      • Each Commissioner has one vote of equal power, with a majority vote needed to decide most issues. Exceptions are votes to apportion among the signatory parties amounts required to support the current expense budget and votes to declare a state of emergency resulting from a drought or catastrophe, which require unanimity.

  • Who make up DRBC's staff?

    • A staff of approx. 35 full-time employees is headed by an executive director, who directly reports to the Commissioners. View current DRBC staff listing.

    • Functional areas include the Directorate, Finance and Administration (including Information Technology), Science and Water Quality Management (including Water Quality Assessment and Water Quality Modeling), Water Resource Management (including Project Review and Water Resource Planning), Water Resource Operations and Communications.

  • What are DRBC's authorities and regulations?

    • The Delaware River Basin Compact outlines the directives and duties of the Commission, giving it broad powers to plan, develop, conserve, regulate, allocate and manage water resources in the basin.

    • The Commission also is guided by its Comprehensive Plan, Rules of Practice and Procedure, Water Code, and the following regulations: Water Quality Regulations, Flood Plain Regulations and Water Supply Charges. Learn more.

  • How is DRBC funded?

    • The Delaware River Basin Compact stipulates that the five signatory parties agree to financially support the Commission's annual current expense budget. In 1988, the Commission members reached a tacit agreement to apportion their contributions at the following percentages: Pennsylvania (25%), New Jersey (25%), federal government (20%), New York (17.5%) and Delaware (12.5%).

    • In addition to signatory funding, the DRBC is supported by its project review fees, water use charges, compliance revenues and grants. Learn more about DRBC's budget.

  • How does DRBC work with state and federal agencies?

    • DRBC's members are the four basin states and federal government, and it works closely with all of them, providing comprehensive, proactive water resource management for the Delaware River Basin.

    • The federal representative represents not only the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but all federal agencies.

    • DRBC has entered into an Administrative Agreement with each of its basin states, which describe how the two entities' regulatory programs cooperate with one another.

    • The Delaware River Basin Compact provides for cooperative planning of the water resources of the basin amongst its members and its many varied partners and stakeholders. The Compact directs the Commission to coordinate the activities of both state and federal agencies working in the basin, while specifying that the functions, powers, and duties of these agencies are to be preserved and utilized when possible.

    • The Commission is not above the states nor above the federal government; rather, it serves as a forum for the states and the federal government to jointly address the region's watershed management issues in an integrated, non-duplicative, and adaptive manner.

  • How can members of the public get involved in DRBC's activities and decision making processes?

  • What is the difference between the DRBC and the Decree Parties?

    • Formed in 1961, the DRBC is a federal-interstate compact agency that manages the water resources of the Delaware River Basin. Its members are the four basin states and the federal government.

    • The decree parties are the four basin states and New York City. They are parties to a 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Decree that pre-dated the DRBC. The decree settled a dispute between the states and New York City over the apportionment of the basin's waters.

    • While four of the five parties overlap between the DRBC and the decree, they are different, and this is a significant distinction to remember.

    • The 1961 Delaware River Basin Compact prohibits the Commission from adversely affecting the releases or diversions provided in the 1954 decree without the unanimous consent of the decree parties. Learn more about the decree.

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About the DRB

General DRB Information: http://www.state.nj.us/drbc/basin/

  • How long is the Delaware River? What are its major tributaries?

    • The Delaware is the longest un-dammed river in the United States east of the Mississippi, extending 330 miles from the confluence of its East and West branches at Hancock, N.Y. in the Catskill Mountains to the mouth of the Delaware Bay where it enters the Atlantic Ocean.

    • The river is fed by over 2,000 tributaries, including 216 major tributaries, the largest being the Schuylkill and Lehigh rivers in Pennsylvania.

  • What is a watershed? How large is the Delaware River Watershed?

    • A watershed, or basin, is an area of land that catches runoff from rain and snow and drains or seeps into a marsh, stream, lake, river or groundwater. It is delineated by elevation and can be made up of smaller sub-watersheds.

    • The Delaware River Watershed, or Delaware River Basin, is small, draining only four-tenths of one percent (0.4%) of the total continental U.S. land area. Its size is approximately 13,500 sq. miles and includes land in four states.

  • What states make up the Delaware River Basin?

    • Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The Delaware River forms a border between the states its entire length.

    • Based on 2020 data, approximately 8.63 million people live in the Delaware River Basin. The population breakdown of the basin's total population is as follows: Delaware (774,000 people, 9%); New Jersey (1,989,000, 23%); New York (117,000, 1%); and Pennsylvania (5,749,000, 67%).

  • How many people rely on the water resources of the DRB?

    • Just over 14 million people (approximately four percent of the nation's population, based on 2020 data) rely on the waters of the Delaware River Basin.

    • The 14.2 million figure includes about five million people in New York City and northern New Jersey who live outside the basin. New York City gets roughly half its water from three large reservoirs located on tributaries to the Delaware.

  • What are the main sub-watersheds of the DRB?

    • The main sub-watersheds of the Delaware River Basin include the Delaware Bay, Lower Estuary, Upper Estuary, Schuylkill Valley, Lower Central, Upper Central, Lehigh Valley, Lackawaxen, Neversink-Mongaup and East and West Branch. View map depicting the DRB's main sub-watersheds.

  • How much of the main stem Delaware River is tidal? How much is non-tidal?

    • The river is tidal for about 133 miles, from the point where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean up to Trenton, N.J. The tidal Delaware River and Delaware Bay is known as the Delaware Estuary.

    • The river is non-tidal for about 200 miles, from Trenton, N.J. up to Hancock, N.Y., where the main stem Delaware River begins.

  • What is the breakdown of land use in the DRB?

    • Nearly 50% of the basin is forested, covering large portions of the upper watershed.

    • 16% of the basin is developed, mostly centered near the tidal portion of the river.

    • Farms and grasslands account for 26% of the basin.

    • 10% is water and wetlands.

  • What is a National Wild and Scenic River? Are there sections of rivers in the Delaware River Basin that are designated wild and scenic?

    • A National Wild and Scenic River is one that is designated as such by the U.S. Congress and the president. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created in 1968 to preserve and protect river stretches and their immediate environments that possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values in free-flowing condition for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.

    • The National Park Service web site reports that only 13,413 miles of 226 rivers in 41 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (just over one-quarter of one percent of the nation's rivers) are included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

    • Several sections of the Delaware River and of several tributaries have been nationally designated. Of the main stem, approximately 75% of the non-tidal river is included in the national system. The sections are: the upper Delaware River (73 miles), the middle Delaware River (40 miles), and the lower Delaware River (66.9 miles, including 38.9 miles of the main stem and 28 miles of select lower Delaware tributaries: the Paunacussing, Tohickon, and Tinicum creeks). Sections of the Musconetcong River and Maurice River (and several sections of Maurice tributaries) have also been named wild and scenic. Lastly, the White Clay Creek is designated Wild and Scenic for its entire length, a first in the national system. Learn more.

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DRBC Programs

DRBC's main programs are flow and drought management, flood loss reduction, water quality and monitoring, project review (permitting) and water supply and conservation.

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Flow and Drought Management
  • What are flow objectives and why are they used?

    • Flow objectives are minimum flow values at specific locations on the Delaware River that - according to set agreements - must be met.

    • A flow objective of 1,750 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Montague, N.J. was established as part of the U.S. Supreme Court Decree of 1954. In times of low flow, the Delaware River Master (who ensures that the provisions of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Decree are being met in an impartial manner) can direct releases from three headwater reservoirs owed by New York City to meet the Montague flow objective. These three reservoirs are also used in the Commission's basin-wide drought operating plan (more below).

    • A flow objective of 3,000 cfs at the river's head of tide at Trenton, N.J. was established as part of DRBC's drought management program. In times of low flow, DRBC can direct releases from the Blue Marsh Reservoir (located on a Schuylkill River tributary) and the Beltzville Reservoir (located on a Lehigh River tributary) to meet the Trenton flow objective. These two reservoirs are also used in the Commission's lower basin drought operating plan (more below).

    • Flow objectives help ensure a consistent and adequate base flow of freshwater in the river to protect downstream users, especially when conditions are dry.

  • How does DRBC manage drought?

    • The Commission's drought management program was adopted in the early 1980s and is designed to manage regional storage through the regulation of river flows and reservoir releases in the basin. The plan coordinates interstate reservoir operations during times of drought, while balancing cutbacks in out-of-basin diversions and river flow objectives against conservation releases for water supply, recreational and fishery benefits.

    • DRBC drought operating plans are implemented either basin-wide or for the lower basin (south of Montague, N.J.) and are automatically invoked when reservoir storage levels fall below specific thresholds. Learn more.

  • What is DRBC's basin-wide drought operating plan?

    • The DRBC basin-wide drought operating plan is activated by low levels of combined storage in three water supply reservoirs owned by New York City (Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink - collectively known as NYC Delaware Basin Reservoirs) in the headwaters of the Delaware River.

    • As water levels in the reservoirs decline and cross already-established thresholds, there is a fixed schedule of phased reductions in releases, diversions to New York City and New Jersey and streamflow objectives for Montague, N.J. and Trenton, N.J. that goes into effect to help conserve the basin's water resources.

  • What is DRBC's lower basin drought operating plan?

    • When lower basin conditions are drier than in the upper part of the basin, the Commission's lower basin drought management plan goes into effect.

    • Just as declining storage in the New York City Delaware Basin Reservoirs initiates drought operations in the basin-wide program, declining storage in two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs (Blue Marsh and Beltzville) is used to enact drought operations (phased reductions in diversions and flow targets) in the lower basin plan.

    • The primary focus of this plan is to control the upstream migration of salty water (referred to as the "salt front" - more below) from the Atlantic Ocean through the Delaware Bay into the tidal river in times of drought.

    • Lower basin operations are controlled by basin-wide or lower basin storage triggers, with the most limiting restrictions controlling.

  • How does DRBC's drought management program differ from basin state programs?

    • The Commission's program complements the basin states' drought plans.

    • DRBC's program has a regional focus, managing the surface water resources of the entire basin during times of drought. DRBC issues basin-wide and lower-basin drought watches, warnings and emergencies in accordance with its operating programs. Learn more.

    • State drought plans look at local water supply conditions, such as precipitation amounts, soil moisture, streamflows, groundwater levels and local reservoir storage. The states decide how to manage and allocate water resources to their residents and consumers during dry conditions, issuing their own drought watches, warnings and emergencies according to their respective programs. Learn more.

  • What is the salt front?

    • Salt-laced water, known in water jargon as the "salt front," is defined as the 250 milligram per liter chloride concentration. This concentration is based on drinking water quality standards originally established by the U.S. Public Health Service. You cannot see the "salt front."

    • The salt front's location normally fluctuates along the tidal Delaware River in response to changing flows, which either dilute or concentrate chlorides in the Delaware River.

    • It is important to limit the upstream migration of salty water to protect drinking water intakes in the urban areas of Philadelphia and Camden, N.J., other surface water users (particularly industry) and aquatic life. Learn more.

  • What is the FFMP? Is it a DRBC program?

    • The Flexible Flow Management Program (FFMP) is a decree party program that attempts to balance the multiple, sometimes competing uses of NYC's water supply reservoirs while recognizing the rights established by the 1954 decree. Its adaptive framework is intended to meet water supply demands, protect fisheries habitat downstream of the NYC-Delaware Basin reservoirs, assist with flood mitigation (by maximizing releases when reservoir levels and refill probability are high, therefore limiting risk to water storage) and repel the upstream movement of salt water in the Delaware Estuary. Learn more (link to the Delaware River Master's web site).

    • The FFMP was unanimously agreed to by the five decree parties first in September 2007 (and later amended in December 2008), which was implemented through May 2011. The decree parties signed an agreement for a new interim FFMP, which was initially in effect June 1, 2011 through May 31, 2012, and one-year renewals of this reservoir operating plan were in place until May 31, 2017. On May 31, 2017, the decree parties agreed to a ten-year FFMP agreement. In 2023, an amendment of the 2017 FFMP was unanimously approved; the 2017 FFMP will remain in effect through May 31, 2028. The five decree parties continue to evaluate the FFMP, and negotiations to develop future multi-year agreements are ongoing.

    • Commission staff provide hydrological modeling and facilitation support to the decree parties as needed.

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Flood Loss Reduction
  • Can DRBC call for water releases from the NYC Delaware Basin Reservoirs in times of high water?

    • No, changes to the management of the NYC Delaware Basin Reservoirs (Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink) can only be made by unanimous consent of the five decree parties (DE, NJ, NY, PA and NYC).

    • In times of flooding or flood threat, DRBC staff are in frequent communication with the decree parties, the Delaware River Master (U.S. Geological Survey) and various National Weather Service entities to coordinate and keep abreast of the latest information and to help share that information with the public.

  • Can DRBC call for water releases from other basin reservoirs in times of high water?

    • No, but in times of high water or the threat thereof, DRBC staff are in communication with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, keeping abreast of their plans to release water from any of their reservoirs within the Basin.

    • In times of flooding or flood threat, DRBC staff are also in frequent communication with basin state and local agencies and various National Weather Service entities to coordinate and keep abreast of the latest information and to help share that information with the public.

  • Does DRBC issue flood information (watches, warnings, etc.)?

    • No, DRBC does not issue flood information, such as flood watches or flood warnings; that is done by the National Weather Service (NWS). DRBC offers links on its pages to information from the NWS. The Commission created a Flood Resources Portal to better package DRB flood information for the public.

  • What is DRBC's role in flood loss reduction efforts in the basin?

    • At the request of its Basin state governors, DRBC formed an Interstate Flood Mitigation Task Force in 2006 after the river basin experienced three major floods in two years. The Task Force completed a report in 2007 that offered 45 consensus recommendations addressing six management areas: flood warning, reservoir operations, floodplain regulation, floodplain mapping, structural and non-structural mitigation and stormwater management.

    • Since the Task Force report was finalized, there has been implementation of several of its recommendations. DRBC has worked with its partners in the basin to help complete and coordinate some of these efforts and communicate progress. Learn more.

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Water Quality and Monitoring
  • How has the Delaware River's water quality improved over time?

    • Starting in the early eighteenth century and over the next 200 years, pollution in the Delaware River became a recognized problem, particularly in the tidal reaches of its urban centers and mostly due to rapid population growth and increased industrial activities. Severe pollution was most evident by the prevalence of waterborne illnesses and in the sharp decline of migratory fish populations, such as the American shad, due to the lack of oxygen in sections of the Delaware Estuary.

    • The Basin states started to deal with the water quality problems of the Delaware River in the early twentieth century. When the DRBC was created in 1961, it delved head-first into its water resources management role, with an initial focus on cleaning up the tidal river's polluted waters.

    • While intensive efforts were underway to clean up the tidal river to meet standards, monitoring demonstrated that the water quality in the non-tidal Delaware was already better than standards.

    • Today, the clean up of the tidal Delaware is hailed as one of the world's top water quality improvement success stories. Learn more.

  • What are DRBC's main water quality programs?

    • The Delaware River Basin Compact directs DRBC to adopt water quality regulations to control and abate pollution and require waste treatment in order to protect public health and the waters of the basin. DRBC's Water Quality Regulations were first adopted in 1967 and have been updated and revised periodically; the regulations list the commission's water quality standards (criteria) and also describe how they are to be applied.

    • Notable Commission water quality programs are its review of water resource projects (project review - more info. in the next section), Special Protection Waters (SPW) program for the non-tidal river, and its Pollutant Minimization Plan (PMP) requirements for point and non-point discharges of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the tidal Delaware River. Learn more.

  • Why does DRBC monitor water quality?

    • Quite simply, you can't manage what you don't measure. DRBC's monitoring programs collect data to help evaluate how the Commission's established water quality criteria are being met. These criteria were designed to protect designated uses of the basin's waters that include drinking water, recreation, aquatic life maintenance and fish consumption.

    • Water quality monitoring is also undertaken to establish and calibrate water quality models, develop Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and assimilative capacity determinations and to help evaluate emerging threats to the water resources of the DRB.

  • What is SPW? How it is monitored?

    • The Special Protection Waters (SPW) program, was initially adopted by the DRBC in 1992 and was expanded in 1994 and 2008. Currently, the entire 197-mile non-tidal Delaware River from Hancock, N.Y. to Trenton, N.J. is considered SPW. DRBC believes that these regulations establish an anti-degradation policy on the longest stretch of any river in the nation. Learn more.

    • In SPW, existing water quality is better than the established water quality standards and there is a common interest to not let the water quality degrade, unless toward natural conditions. This is done through stricter control of wastewater discharges and reporting requirements.

    • To obtain DRBC approval, new discharges and substantial alterations and additions to existing discharges within the drainage area to waters classified as SPW must demonstrate no measurable change to existing water quality as defined by the regulations, must use best demonstrable technology for wastewater treatment and must also submit a non-point source pollution control plan to limit non-point source pollutant loadings from the project.

    • Monitoring is required in SPW to determine if measurable change is occurring to existing water quality, which has been defined at designated interstate and boundary control points. DRBC and the National Park Service conduct this monitoring in a partnership effort known as the Scenic Rivers Monitoring Program; close to 60 sites are sampled between May and September.

  • What are PCBs? What is a TMDL?

    • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a class of carcinogenic chemicals present in the waters of the Delaware Estuary at concentrations that violate water quality criteria.

    • Widely used in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment, the U.S. banned the manufacture of PCBs in 1976; however, existing uses were permitted and their chemical stability allows them to persist in the environment to this day.

    • PCBs are found in the waters of the Delaware Estuary and also in sediment and fish tissue.

    • High levels of PCBs have resulted in state-issued fish consumption advisories for certain species caught in the Delaware Estuary, requiring these waters to be listed as impaired and mandating the establishment of a PCB total maximum daily load (TMDL). A TMDL expresses the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still attain water quality standards.

    • In the early 2000s, DRBC was asked by the three estuary states (PA, NJ, and DE) and the U.S. EPA to develop the technical basis for the Stage 1 PCB TMDL for the Delaware Estuary. In 2013, DRBC adopted revised PCB criteria; Stage 2 TMDLs are in the process of being established based on the updated criteria.

    • To support TMDL implementation, DRBC monitors ambient waters, sediment and fish tissue to provide data on PCB concentrations in the Delaware Estuary. Learn more.

  • What are Pollutant Minimization Plans?

    • Pollutant Minimization Plans (PMPs) are required by DRBC for point and non-point discharges of PCBs in the Delaware Estuary, with the overall goal to reduce or eliminate PCBs where they are known to exist.

    • PMPs establish a non-numeric approach to track down and reduce sources of PCBs, requiring biennial sampling and submission of an annual report summarizing the PCB loading reduction efforts undertaken by the discharger.

    • PMP efforts appear to be working. The top ten dischargers responsible for 90% of the point-source PCB loadings have reduced their contributions 76% from 2005-2016. Learn more.

  • What are some examples of DRBC modeling efforts?

    • DRBC develops and applies various models for the Basin's waters:

      • A real-time flow and transport model, which is run nightly and tracks the movement of water in the tidal Delaware River. If a spill occurs, the most recent model run can be used along with a water quality model to predict where the pollutant will go and what the concentrations will be;

      • Models to determine mixing zones for various parameters for regulated discharges;

      • Assimilative capacity determinations for a water quality parameter of concern;

      • An eutrophication model for the Delaware River Estuary;

      • TMDL development to support the basin states and the U.S. EPA; and

      • No measurable change evaluations for dischargers in SPW. Learn more.

  • What is DO and why is it important?

    • Dissolved oxygen (DO) is necessary for most forms of aquatic life to breathe, and it is important to maintain adequate levels for both migrating and resident fish populations, juveniles and adults. If there is no or very low DO levels in water, fish and other aquatic life cannot survive.

    • DO levels in water can change seasonally and daily; for example, warmer water typically contains less oxygen than colder water. Additionally, saltier water carries less oxygen than fresh water. Wastewater discharges, decaying leaves and algae, chemical compounds and nutrients can also decrease the amount of DO in water.

    • Pollution in the Delaware Estuary was quite severe when DRBC was created, and Commission efforts to address this problem, including establishing water quality criteria for DO, have been successful. Improvements in DO levels in the Delaware Estuary have improved the water quality of this section of river, allowing for the survival of resident and migratory fish species.

    • The DRBC is currently part of an effort to implement higher dissolved oxygen criteria to better support all life stages of fish populations. Learn more.

  • How is DO connected to nutrients?

    • Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are essential components of aquatic ecosystems, used by living things to promote growth.

    • They are good at certain levels, but high concentrations can overstimulate the production of plants and algae, which utilize DO as they decompose, thus reducing the levels of DO in the water. This leads to poor in-stream conditions and reduced water quality.

    • In the Delaware Estuary, it is thought that the intermittent reductions in DO in certain locations is due to elevated levels of nitrogen from fertilizers, animal waste, septic systems, storm runoff and sewage treatment plants.

    • DRBC serves as the lead coordinating agency among the U.S. EPA and the Basin states for evaluating the nutrient conditions in the main stem Delaware River and Bay. The Commission is working to identify appropriate levels of nutrients and necessary measures to take, especially in relation to DO. Learn more.

  • What is DRBC's Biological Monitoring Program?

    • DRBC's Biological Monitoring Program began in 2001 and includes the development and implementation of methodologies for assessing ecosystem health in the non-tidal Delaware River. Benthic macroinvertebrates (aquatic bugs) and benthic periphyton (alga) are sampled and habitat characteristics are documented to provide an overview of the diversity and health of the aquatic life community.

    • The program also gathers information on other natural resources in the DRB, such as fisheries, aquatic plants, mussels and invasive species.

    • Every few years, typically during August and September, DRBC staff collect samples at 25 riffle habitat sites from Hancock, N.Y. to just above the head of tide at Trenton, N.J. Learn more.

  • What is the Delaware Estuary Boat Run Water Quality Monitoring Program?

    • Initiated in 1967, the Delaware Estuary Boat Run Water Quality Monitoring Program is one of the longest running monitoring programs in the world, providing data on the surface water quality of the Delaware Estuary.

    • Each year, DRBC contracts with the Delaware Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to collect water samples in the Delaware Estuary from the head of tide at Trenton, N.J. to the Delaware Bay.

    • Samples are collected monthly from April to October and analysis includes routine and bacterial parameters, nutrients, heavy metals and volatile organics. Learn more.

  • Why does DRBC monitor salinity in the estuary?

    • DRBC has adopted criteria and monitors and tracks chlorides as part of its drought management program, which focuses on controlling the upstream migration of salty water from the Delaware Bay during low flow conditions.

    • As salt-laced water moves upriver, it can increase treatment costs for public water suppliers, corrosion control costs for surface water users, particularly industry, as well as affect aquatic living resources.

  • What are fish consumption advisories? Does DRBC issue them?

    • Certain chemicals tend to concentrate (bioaccumulate) in fish and shellfish to levels thousands of times greater than the levels in the water itself, presenting health concerns to those individuals that consume them.

    • The Basin states issue fish consumption advisories containing meal advice for consumers of recreationally-caught fish and shellfish to minimize the risk to human health. These advisories list the water bodies, fish species and number of meals recommended to minimize the risk. In some cases, no consumption of any fish species from a water body or more stringent consumption guidelines for pregnant women and children is advised. These advisories are typically revised yearly based upon recent fish tissue concentration data.

    • DRBC does not issue fish consumption advisories; instead, the Commission works with its states and provides additional data for them to use to develop their state-issued advisories. Learn more.

  • What are CECs?

    • Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) are chemicals that have entered the environment, mainly through human activities, but are not routinely monitored for and are currently unregulated. Examples include pharmaceuticals and personal care products, hormones, flame retardants, and flame repellents/non-stick surface coatings. Microplastics are another example of contaminants of emerging concern.

    • DRBC completed a three-year effort in 2009 to investigate the presence and concentration of CECs in the ambient waters of the tidal Delaware River. The DRBC routinely monitors surface water, sediment and fish tissue for CECs. Learn more.

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Project Review/Permitting
  • Why does DRBC review projects?

    • The Delaware River Basin Compact provides that no project having a substantial effect on the water resources of the Basin shall be undertaken unless it shall have been first submitted to and approved by the Commission (Delaware River Basin Compact, §3.8).

    • In accordance with Section 3.8 of the Compact, the Commission is required to approve a project whenever it finds and determines that the project would not substantially impair or conflict with the Comprehensive Plan.

  • What types of projects does DRBC regulate?

    • DRBC has the authority to review projects in the basin that withdraw from or discharge to the basin's waters over certain thresholds. DRBC's review responsibilities cover new projects, renewals or increases (or decreases) in allocations previously approved by the Commission.

    • DRBC will review a water withdrawal - be it from ground or surface water or diversion or transfer in or out of the Basin - when the daily average gross withdrawal during any 30 consecutive day period exceeds 100,000 gallons. The exception is withdrawals located within the Southeastern Pennsylvania Groundwater Protected Area (SEPAGWPA; see below for more details), where new or expanded well water projects involving an average withdrawal of more than 10,000 gallons per day (gpd) during any consecutive 30-day period from a well or group of wells operated as a system are required to obtain a DRBC Protected Area Permit.

    • The Commission also regulates the discharge of pollutants into the ground or surface waters of the Delaware River Basin. Discharges over 50,000 gpd during any consecutive 30-day period require DRBC's approval, be it from wastewater treatment facilities or the importation or exportation of wastewater. Discharges are more closely regulated in DRBC's Special Protection Waters (SPW) program (see SPW question in the Water Quality & Monitoring section for more details), which includes the entire non-tidal Delaware River and the watershed that drains to it. In these waters, Commission approval is needed for discharges over 10,000 gpd during any consecutive 30-day period. DRBC approval of wastewater projects is contingent upon the determination that the discharge meets treatment standards and does not adversely affect established water quality criteria for the Basin's waters.

  • How does DRBC approve projects?

    • The Commission provides by regulation for the procedure of submission, review and consideration of projects and for its determinations pursuant to Section 3.8 of the Delaware River Basin Compact (for docket application) and in accordance with Section 10.3 of the Compact and the Commission's Southeastern Pennsylvania Ground Water Protected Area Regulations (for Protected Area Permit applications).

    • Docket and permit applications are reviewed by DRBC's Water Resource Management and Science and Water Quality Management branches.

    • The DRBC Commissioners approve dockets at regularly scheduled business meetings after a public hearing has occurred.

  • Do DRBC dockets supersede state or federal regulations? How do they work together?

    • DRBC dockets do not supersede state or federal regulations. Projects that need DRBC approval may also need separate approval from the states in which they are located.

    • If DRBC and the respective state's regulations differ with respect to criteria values that must be met, the general rule is that the stricter of the two applies within the Basin's boundaries.

    • DRBC works with the Basin states to ensure that there is not unnecessary duplication of effort in approving projects.

    • In order to increase efficiency and reduce duplication of efforts, the DRBC and the Basin states have entered into Administrative Agreements to approve certain types of projects through a single process - with the state being the lead agency - resulting in one decision or approval.

  • What is DRBC's One Process/One Permit Program?

    • For projects subject to regulatory review by both the DRBC and a Basin state, the One Process/One Permit Program allows for the issuance of a single approval instrument incorporating the applicable requirements of the two authorities. The program does not alter the regulatory standards of the DRBC or any state agency, and the respective authorities of each agency will be expressly preserved.

    • Currently, the states of New Jersey and New York are part of the program. Learn more.

  •  What is SEPAGWPA?

    • SEPAGWPA stands for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Groundwater Protected Area, which is an area of known groundwater stress due to intense development pressures. In this area, more stringent regulations apply to groundwater withdrawals, requiring new or expanded well water projects involving an average withdrawal of more than 10,000 gpd during any consecutive 30-day period from a well or group of wells operated as a system to obtain a DRBC Protected Area Permit.

    • The main goal of the SEPAGWPA is to prevent the depletion of groundwater. Lowered water tables in this region have reduced flows in some streams and dried up others. This reduction in baseflows affects downstream water uses, negatively impacts aquatic life and can reduce the capacity of waterways in the region to assimilate pollutants. Another goal is to protect the interests and rights of lawful users of the same water source, as well as balance and reconcile alternative and conflicting uses of limited water resources in the region. Learn more.

  • What is the status of natural gas drilling in the basin?

    • In May 2010, the Commissioners unanimously directed staff to develop draft regulations on well pads in the shales for notice and comment rulemaking and postponed the DRBC's consideration of well pad dockets until regulations are adopted. Draft natural gas development regulations were first published in December 2010, and revised draft natural gas development regulations were published in November 2011. The special meeting scheduled for Nov. 21, 2011 to consider adoption of the revised draft natural gas development regulations was postponed to allow additional time for review by the five DRBC members. No natural gas development can take place in the DRB until the DRBC adopts regulations specific to this activity.

    • This de facto moratorium allowed DRBC staff time to conduct monitoring in order to characterize pre-gas drilling baseline conditions in the upper section of the DRB. By establishing pre-gas drilling conditions, DRBC was in a stronger position to minimize impacts from gas development activities should they commence. Learn more.

    • At their September 13, 2017, regularly scheduled business meeting, the Commissioners approved a resolution directing the executive director to prepare and publish by Nov. 30, 2017 a revised set of draft regulations for public comment to address natural gas development activities within the Delaware River Basin.

    • On November 30, 2017, the Commission posted on its web site revised draft amendments to its regulations and comprehensive plan to better provide for the planning, conservation, utilization, development, management and control of the Basin's water resources in connection with the hydraulic fracturing of shale and other hydrocarbon bearing formations. The revised draft rules include prohibitions related to the production of natural gas utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing within the Delaware River Basin.

    • On February 25, 2021, the DRBC voted to prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River Basin. Learn more.

    • On December 7, 2022, the DRBC voted to prohibit the discharge of wastewater from HVHF and HVHF-related activities to all land and waters of the Basin. Learn more.

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Water Supply and Conservation
  • On average, how much of the basin's water resources is used daily?

    • Approximately 6.4 billion gallons of ground and surface water is withdrawn from the Basin every day (based on 2020 data). The largest water use sectors are power generation (~49%), public water supply (~12%), industry (~7%), and exports (a.k.a. out of basin transfers) to New York City and northern New Jersey (~9%). Learn more.

    • The majority of users of the waters of the Delaware River Basin are within the Basin. The major out of basin transfers of water are for water supply to New York City via an extensive aqueduct system and to northern New Jersey residents through the Delaware and Raritan Canal.

  • What are DRBC conservation policies?

    • DRBC has long recognized the importance and value of saving water at all times, not just during times of drought. The Commission's water conservation program incorporates a wide range of policies including, but not limited to, requirements for metering, leak detection and repair programs, water conservation plans and water conservation performance standards for plumbing fixtures. Learn more.

  • What is DRBC's water audit program?

    • In 2009, the Commission passed a water audit requirement that requires water purveyors to track how effectively water is moved from its source to customers' taps using a new reporting program. Based on methodology proposed by the American Water Works Association (AWWA), this approach reflects the latest thinking in the field of water efficiency, helping improve the way that public water supply systems quantify and account for their water losses.

    • The new rule requires water suppliers to submit annual reports to the Commission by utilizing AWWA's free water audit software program. The DRBC is one of only a handful of U.S. regulators that has made this methodology a regulatory requirement. Learn more.

  • What is DRBC's water charges program and why does DRBC charge for water?

    • Between 1964 and 1974, the Commission authorized a system of water supply charges applicable to surface water uses to cover all the costs associated with making the basin water supply available and maintaining its continued availability in adequate quantity and quality over time. Groundwater withdrawn from the basin is currently exempt from the Commission's water charging program.

    • Surface water charges provide the revenue stream the Commission needs to repay the debt service as well as operations and maintenance costs for its water supply storage in two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-owned multi-purpose reservoirs, Beltzville and Blue Marsh. Storage in Beltzville and Blue Marsh reservoirs is utilized in the Commission's lower basin drought operating plan.  Water charges also support the Commission's administrative and staff costs related to the protection and preservation of the Basin's water quantity and quality.  Learn more.

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  • How often does the Commission meet?

    • The Commission holds quarterly business meetings and public hearings on policy matters, rule changes and water resource projects under regulatory review. Learn more.

  • What are DRBC's advisory committees?

    • The DRBC has several advisory committees that are made up of appointed representatives of federal, state and local agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individual stakeholders from academia, industry and local communities.

    • Commission advisory committees are the following: Advisory Committee on Climate Change, Flood Advisory Committee, Monitoring Advisory and Coordination Committee, Regulated Flow Advisory Committee, Toxics Advisory Committee, Water Management Advisory Committee and the Water Quality Advisory Committee. Advisory committees can have subcommittees. Learn more.

  • Are the meetings open to the public?

    • DRBC public hearings, business meetings and meetings of the Commission's various advisory committees are all open to the public.

    • Votes by the Commissioners take place at DRBC business meetings open to the public and for which the public has received the required advance notice.

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