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Drought Emergency Declared In The Delaware River Basin

For Immediate Release

December 18, 2001

(WEST TRENTON, N.J.) - With reservoir storage and ground water supplies well below seasonable averages, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) today declared a drought emergency in the 13,539 square-mile watershed which drains portions of New York State, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Under the emergency order, the commission can call for releases from federal, state, and privately-owned reservoirs to bolster flows in the Delaware River and tributary streams. This additional volume of water in the waterways helps protect aquatic life and repel the upstream migration of salty water from the Delaware Bay which can cause corrosion problems for riverbank industry and increase water treatment costs for municipalities.

The reservoir releases will complement those from three huge water supply reservoirs at the headwaters of the Delaware River which are at record low levels. Combined storage in the impoundments, which are owned by New York City, stands at some 64 billion gallons, just over 115 billion gallons below normal for this time of year. It's the lowest level since the last of the three reservoirs went on line in 1967.

With adoption of the drought declaration, the commission also can (at the request of one of the four signatory states) require major water users in that state to prepare contingency plans for water curtailment in the event it becomes necessary and submit those plans to the commission.

Also under the declaration, water currently stored in Lake Wallenpaupack, a power generation impoundment located near Hawley, Pa., and New York State's Mongaup reservoir system can be called on to help increase river flows. Lake Wallenpaupack is owned by PPL Generation, LLC; Mirant owns the Mongaup system, another power generation facility located near Monticello, N.Y.

The commission also is requesting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to retain storage in the F.E. Walter Reservoir and provide releases at the commission's request. The flood control impoundment is located on a tributary of the Lehigh River in Luzerne County, Pa.

And the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is being asked to release water when needed from Lake Nockamixon, a recreational reservoir located in Bucks County, Pa.

Under the commission's drought operating plan, which has been implemented in stages over the past several months, the allowable water supply diversions to New York City from its reservoirs have been lowered from a normal of 800 to 520 million gallons per day (mgd), and diversions to northern New Jersey through the Delaware and Raritan Canal have been lowered from the normal of 100 to 65 mgd.

In addition, minimum flow targets on the Delaware River have been lowered from 1,750 to 1,350 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Montague, N.J., and from 3,000 to 2,500 cfs at Trenton, N.J.

Reservoir releases are made to help meet these targets.

The cutbacks in the out-of-basin diversions and the flow targets, which save up to 540 million gallons a day of storage, began to take effect on October 29 when falling storage triggered a drought watch. A further drop in storage triggered a drought warning on November 4, and on December 1 a drought was triggered as storage continued to drop.

Over 17 million people rely on the waters of the Delaware River Basin. New York City, which lies outside the watershed, gets roughly half its water from its three Upper Delaware reservoirs - Pepacton, Neversink, and Cannonsville.

In addition, Merrill Creek Reservoir, located near Phillipsburg, N.J., and constructed by a consortium of electric utilities in the late 1980s, has released some 1.2 billion gallons of water into the Delaware River to replace water lost through evaporation during power generation. The releases are triggered by operating criteria approved by the commission.

Rainfall is approximately 10 inches below normal for the year in the upper basin. The last five months also have been very dry in the central portion of the watershed, particularly in the Philadelphia area, central and southern New Jersey, and in extreme northern Delaware. Southern Delaware has not been as hard hit by the prolonged dry spell.

"With cooler weather and generally reduced demand for water, the dry conditions are not as noticeable in day-to-day activities as they would be during the summer, " noted Carol Collier, the commission's executive director. "However, refilling the large reservoirs will require above normal rain and snow during the winter and spring. For this reason, additional conservation measures are needed now."

In response to the parched conditions, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on December 5 declared a drought warning for all counties located within the basin with the exception of Luzerne and Lackawanna, which are under a drought watch. New Jersey declared a drought warning on November 21 for the portion of the state located within the Delaware Basin, mainly the counties that flank the Delaware River. New York State has declared drought warnings for six counties in the Delaware River Watershed – Delaware, Greene, Orange, Schoharie, Sullivan, and Ulster. Broome and Chenango counties, parts of which also drain to the Delaware River, are under a drought watch.

Voluntary conservation measures are being requested in these areas, a move that is strongly supported by the commission. Reduction in non-essential water use lowers water demand and subsequently will allow for better recovery of ground and surface water systems during the winter and spring period.

Under the drought declaration declared today, the four basin states will continue to be responsible for the declaration of county or statewide drought emergences and will be responsible for the implementation and enforcement of associated restrictions on non-essential water uses in these areas.

The declarations by the states are based on comprehensive sets of drought indicators including precipitation, reservoir storage, and ground water and stream flow levels. The commission's drought plan is unique in that it is triggered solely by declining reservoir storage. It is designed for managing regional storage and complements the plans of the states which respond to local water supply conditions.

The Delaware River Basin Commission is an interstate-federal agency responsible for managing the water resources within the watershed, located in the most densely populated and intensively industrialized region of the United States. Commission members are the governors of the four basin states (Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) and a federal representative appointed by the President.


Editors/News Directors: Additional information about the commission and the basin, including the names of municipalities located within the watershed, can be found at the DRBC's web site: www.drbc.net.

Text of Drought Emergency Resolution 2001-32 (pdf 55 KB)

Link to DRBC's Drought Information Page


Contact: Clarke Rupert, 609-883-9500 ext. 260