NYCDEP looks to assuage fears about the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown
| April 13, 2023
The date for the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown still stands at Oct. 1 but if meteorological conditions aren’t right, there’s a chance it could be postponed another year.
Jennifer Garigliano, chief of staff for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Water Supply, referred to those conditions several times during a presentation about the shutdown Tuesday night at the Hancock Town Hall in Delaware County.
She explained that the weather leading up to the shutdown will play a huge role in the go/no-go decision.
The balancing act among all the reservoirs is key to pressing the go button.
Not only is the aim to have the three New York City reservoirs in the Delaware system — Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink — at a 30 percent void, but also to make sure the other systems — Croton and Catskill — are at a targeted level to allow those systems to supply all of New York City’s water for the 6-to-8-month projected shutdown.
(Check back here in a week or so when NYCDEP said it will have all the slides from Tuesday night’s presentation available. I will link to it.)
[Read more: Our past coverage of the planned shutdown]
The Catskill system is made up of other reservoirs west of the Hudson — the Schoharie and the Ashokan. It has its own aqueduct that leads first to the Kensico Reservoir and eventually to Yonkers.
The Kensico is part of a jigsaw puzzle of reservoirs in the Croton system, which is much smaller than the west of Hudson reservoirs. All of the Croton system is east of the Hudson in Westchester County.
To get those systems up to the job, repairs have been ongoing throughout the water system to allow it to run at a greater-than-normal capacity. In addition, the various out-of-New York City municipalities that can legally tap into the city’s water supply have also had to be prepped for the shutdown.
The leaks (amounting to 30 million gallons daily) that demand repair were discovered in the early 1990s but all of the studies, engineering and logistics have taken 20 years to get to this, the capstone piece of a $1 billion project.
“Just know that there has been a lot of work going on these past 20 years,” Garigliano said. “We’ve not been sitting idly by.”
Fishing, flow and flooding were concerns
There were about 30 people in the Town Hall in Hancock and another 70 on Zoom.
Also present were representatives from the meeting’s co-hosts, the Friends of the Delaware River and the Upper Delaware River Tailwaters Coalition, as well as representatives from Colchester, the Town and Village of Hancock and Delaware County, among others.
It’s likely that their interests were less about the complicated project as a whole but rather on what it will mean for the upper river — the people who live downstream of the dams and the fishing community that is an economic driver for the area.
As is typical in the complicated story of the river, there were at least two sides in the questions raised.
Some people were interested in making sure there was no risk of flooding, while others wanted to make sure that there would be a good supply of water to support fishing, especially trout fishing.
“I’m very frightened,” said Joan Homovich, who lives below the Pepacton Reservoir and is a longtime advocate for people who live below the dams. She is also someone who has experienced flooding first hand.
Like many of the people who raised questions, she is well versed in what might be called the “Bible” of reservoir releases — the FFMP – known best by its acronym, which stands for the Flexible Flow Management Plan.
That’s the agreement among the four states in the watershed and New York City about how much water will be released in an attempt to ensure that there’s less swinging from too-much to too-little water.
The plan gives guidelines for seasonal releases and Homovich’s concern was that the FFMP’s stipulated releases from the reservoir have to be on the low side during the winter. If the reservoirs are high and releases are low, she warned of the risk of flooding.
But the FFMP, said Garigliano, will not be the sole guide for releases.
In fact, during the shutdown, the releases might vary considerably. If the reservoirs are judged to be “too full” for this period of time, there will be additional releases up to the maximum.
DEP to rely on amped-up weather forecasting
Several times during her 53-minute presentation, Garigliano emphasized that there are a host of meteorological and engineering specialists, both on NYCDEP staff and others who will help guide those decisions.
The DEP has brought together top minds in weather forecasting, including resources from multiple National Weather Service offices, Columbia University, IBM and the Weather Underground, to have layers of forecasting insights.
But not surprisingly, once you’ve experienced a flood, trust is an issue.
Another speaker, Stephen Fawer, who also lives below the Pepacton, was concerned that the model that NYCDEP has developed to guide the shutdown didn’t include a graph in Garigliano’s presentation that showed what could be predicted, in terms of flood risk, if the reservoirs were high.
The slides that Garigliano presented were an amalgamation of lots of different scenarios, she said, about 60 in all.
Embedded in those scenarios was all sorts of possibilities. The model has been approved by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
As for the fishing community, “It means you’re probably going to have a good fishing season because there will be a lot of cold-water releases,” she said.
Brett Lorenzen, a guide, asked questions about safety and notifications.
He said after the meeting that a lot of people bought boats during the pandemic and that the West Branch was already crowded with boats and would be even more so in July. He said if the releases are too great, it could end up not being safe to wade in the water and he’d be compelled to get a boat.
Garigliano said she is in regular communication with Jeff Skelding, the executive director of the Friends of the Upper Delaware River, about any sudden changes in releases, but also said she would work on developing more ways to communicate.
Built into the planning has been a bailout scenario: How long would it take to return to service if there’s a serious unexpected problem?
The estimate is from one to nine weeks.
“We don’t have a crystal ball,” Garigliano said. “I wish we did. We have to make all decisions in real time.”
More meetings to come
Ben Rinker, a fishing guide, had a question: “Let’s address the elephant in the room. Are we going to be able to get that 30 million gallons?”
He was referring to the amount of water leaking and raising the near-constant concern of anglers and guides about whether the water will be cold enough and deep enough to support trout fishing.
Garigliano said it wouldn’t be up to her, or even the NYCDEP, but would involve those five FFMP parties.
“Oh yeah,” said Rinker, “that whole carnival that has to get going.”
There were appreciative nods in the room. As mentioned previously, this was a well-informed audience.
Garigliano concluded, “Our goal is that you guys don’t even notice the shutdown.”
She promised to make more visits to keep the community informed as the shutdown deadline approaches.
There are repeat performances of this presentation scheduled:
The Regulated Flow Advisory Committee of the Delaware River Basin Commission will hear the presentation at its meeting on April 26. The meeting is scheduled from 1-3 p.m., with other items on the agenda. The meeting is open to the public and will be held via Zoom. You can register to attend remotely on this page.
At this meeting, the DRBC’s manager of water resource operations, Amy Shallcross, will give a presentation on the shutdown.
The last scheduled session will be at 7 p.m. on May 4 at the Upper Delaware Council offices in Narrowsburg, N.Y.
Chris Mele contributed reporting.