With the passing of winter and the start of the spring thaw, summer water DC
With the passing of winter and the start of the spring thaw, summer water usage and the plan to regulate it come under renewed scrutiny. MEG McGUIRE PHOTO

IMHO: Time to revisit the whole Delaware water-supply system

| March 3, 2017


IN ONE OF THE sure signs of spring, the states of New Jersey and New York are ready to rumble over how much water New York City lets out of its reservoirs to flow downstream to fulfill the water needs of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.

Some might think that New Jersey is being a troublemaker — and maybe it is in the short term — but take the long view and things look different.

The Supreme Court Decree of 1954 allowed New York City to divert 800 million gallons per day from the Delaware tributaries and required that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection has to meet water flow targets at the Montague, N.J. guage to insure users downstream have the water they need.

New York City’s reservoir system consists of three main parts: the Croton, Catskill and Delaware systems. The NYCDEP is to be applauded for running an extensive water conservation system that has meant that water use is declining despite increases in population. There is more water in its system than it’s using, just as New Jersey is getting thirstier.

The city and the state of New York have at their disposal an enormous resource, and they can wait for some party to contest the status quo in court.

Or, they can recognize that a water-supply system that’s based on the regularity of rain and snowfall in the ’50s and ’60s is not likely to be reliable in the same way in the future as the climate changes.

The forecast for our part of the world is more water less often. We’ll likely be fluctuating from floods to droughts. How do we prepare for swings between too much and too little water?

Perhaps it’s time to re-think the whole Delaware River water supply system.

New Jersey, which might be acting selfishly, has kicked open the door for us to have a conversation about different ways to use our water resources. But all sides need to calm down. Water is too important. New York could accept the general theory that water is not limited by state lines and it could come up with its own way to contribute to a large-scale revision of water allocation in conjunction with its decree-party partners. And all sides need to respect the 500-pound gorilla who’s not even in the watershed — New York City’s water needs.

Yes, this would be a massive undertaking, but states and municipalities and businesses are figuring out how to become climate resilient. Perhaps we should do the same for the river.

Let some of the heat out of this argument, agree that more concrete cooperation is needed to plan for the future — not just lip service — and move ahead with at least a one year extension of the Flexible Flow Management Plan.

Meg McGuire

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.

Leave a Comment