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DRBC Lower Basin Drought Warning Becoming Likely
Commission Schedules Public Hearing on Nov. 9, Urges Efficient Water Use and Public Cooperation With State-Issued Alerts

For Immediate Release

October 26, 2016

(West Trenton, N.J.) -- Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) Executive Director Steve Tambini today announced that storage levels in two reservoirs in the Schuylkill and Lehigh river valleys of Pennsylvania are quickly approaching levels that would require the commission to issue a lower basin drought warning unless the region receives much-needed rainfall.

The DRBC’s primary drought management objective is to provide for conservation of regional reservoir storage for purposes of water supply and flow augmentation for the Delaware River as well as salinity control in the Delaware Estuary. "Low flows in the Delaware River caused by the ongoing dry conditions prompted the DRBC beginning in early September to direct releases from the Beltzville and Blue Marsh reservoirs to meet the minimum flow target at Trenton, N.J.," said Tambini. "As of Oct. 24, nearly 7.5 billion gallons (bg) of water had been released from these two lower basin reservoirs to meet the Trenton target, along with an additional 2.7 bg from the New York City-owned upper basin reservoirs."

Both Beltzville Reservoir (located on a tributary to the Lehigh River in Carbon County, Pa.) and Blue Marsh Reservoir (located on a tributary to the Schuylkill River in Berks County, Pa.) are owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. DRBC pays the Army Corps of Engineers from its Water Supply Storage Facilities Fund for reservoir storage that is used for directed releases during dry conditions.

The purpose of the Trenton flow target is to control the "salt line" or "salt front" in the tidal Delaware River. Freshwater is needed to keep the "salty" or "brackish" water from advancing up from the Delaware Bay during low-flow conditions and reaching drinking water intakes serving residents in Philadelphia and New Jersey or industrial intakes along the river.

"The salt front is currently more than 13 river miles upstream from its normal location for this time of year despite significant freshwater reservoir releases," said Tambini. "If more water is needed to address salt front management, we can expect additional declines in reservoir storage and additional drought risks."

The declaration of a drought warning for the lower basin, which is the portion of the basin downstream of Montague, N.J., would reduce the flow objective at Trenton based on the location of the salt front. "The effect of these actions would be to conserve reservoir storage, given the uncertainty of how much longer it will be necessary to direct releases from the reservoirs to support low river flows," added Tambini.

A lower basin drought warning also gives the DRBC the option of calling for releases from additional reservoirs, if necessary, to bolster flows.

"Many areas in the Delaware River Basin continue to experience significantly below-normal precipitation with resulting effects on streamflows, groundwater levels, and reservoir storage," said Tambini. "These conditions have already prompted New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania to declare drought watches or warnings in more than half of the counties that lie within the basin."

The commission will hold a hearing Nov. 9 at 1:30 p.m. at the Washington Crossing Historic Park Visitor Center, 1112 River Road, in Washington Crossing, Pa. to accept public input on the persistent dry conditions throughout the basin and how to address them. The hearing will be part of the regularly scheduled DRBC quarterly public hearing. "The commission will consider the potential for declaring a water supply emergency in the future if conditions continue to worsen and will be seeking input from interested parties before possibly taking this step," said Tambini.

The DRBC is also urging all water users to fully cooperate with requests by the basin states to voluntarily curb water use where drought watches and warnings have been issued and to maximize water efficiency wherever possible. "Over 15 million people rely on basin waters and we sometimes believe this resource is limitless because, unlike in the western states, it seems to ‘always be there’ in this region," said Tambini. "The fact is that we never know when the next significant and long-term drought might begin so we should all collectively work towards improving water efficiency every day, not only when we see persistent dry conditions like now."

The DRBC is a federal/interstate government agency responsible for managing the water resources within the 13,539 square-mile Delaware River Basin without regard to political boundaries. The five commission members are the governors of the basin states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) and the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' North Atlantic Division, who represents the federal government.

More information about the commission’s drought operating plans, the Nov. 9th public hearing, links to basin state drought pages, updates about water resource conditions, and water savings tips are available at www.drbc.net.

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Contact: Clarke Rupert, Clarke.Rupert@drbc.nj.gov, (609) 883-9500 ext. 260
Kate Schmidt, Kate.Schmidt@drbc.nj.gov, (609) 883-9500 ext. 205 

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