Potential Delaware River drought prompts hearing

This week's Delaware River Basin Commission meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 9, is seeking "Public input on the persistent dry conditions throughout the basin and how to address them."


Warning signs are everywhere:

• The crawl upriver of the salt line — the place where ocean water (salty) is able to push fresh water farther upriver. This becomes a problem for communities like Philadelphia and Camden who depend on fresh water from the Delaware River for their water supply.

• Pennsylvania reservoirs that are used to augment the fresh water flow to battle the encroaching salt water are depleted.

• The up-and-down, unpredictable releases from the New York City reservoirs as the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, the River Master and the other inputs to the upper river try and get "just right" the Supreme-Court mandated flow at the Montague gage. Too much and you're wasting fresh water, too little and the river slows to a trickle.

• The trout spawning season won't be helped by those on-again, off-again, so-called yo-yo releases. Also, shallow water is usually warmer water and the river ecosystems are not attuned to that at this time of year.

While individual states are responsible for declaring droughts in their counties, the DRBC is responsible for declaring a drought for the Delaware River itself.

The map above hows the drought status of various basin counties.

For the river as whole, a drought situation is triggered by the amount of water in the three Delaware River reservoirs in New York State managed by the NYCDEP.


The top purple line is the one to watch. Sometime in mid-September, the line veered from the long-term median, or usual storage. It took about six weeks for that line to drop. If there's no significant rainfall, it looks like it won't take long for the line to drop into Drought Warning. Notice too that the lines that indicate various stages of drought are not that far apart.

Each stage of the drought process calls for different actions, from reducing the Supreme Court mandated river flow at Montague, N.J., to accessing different reservoirs in the basin to augment the flow, to reducing the so-called "out-of basin" withdrawals — that might especially affect New Jersey's draw out of the Delaware at the Delaware and Raritan Canal that feeds the ocean-bound Raritan River system.

Since the Delaware is 330 miles long, the weather conditions at the "top" (New York) can be different from the "bottom" (south of Trenton.)

Right now, there are no dry conditions in Delaware.

So in addition to the drought process for the whole river, there is a separate drought system for the lower basin, and that's triggered by the amounts of water in the Blue Marsh and Beltzville Reservoirs, both in Pennsylvania.

Part of that process is holding a public hearing.

The DRBC meeting starts at 1:30 p.m., with public hearings on various dockets regarding water discharges and withdrawals as well as the hearing on the "persistent dry conditions in the basin."

The meeting will be held at Washington Crossing Historic Park Visitor Center, 1112 River Road, Washington Crossing, Pa.

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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