UDC awards ceremony set for Sept. 12

The Upper Delaware Council will celebrate those who have enhanced the quality of life or protected the resources of the Upper Delaware River Valley at an awards ceremony on Sept. 12.

New York State Senator Mike Martucci, Republican of the 42nd District, will be the keynote speaker.

The following recipients will be honored:

*Distinguished Service Award:* Kevin Reish, a U.S. park ranger for the National Park Service (retired), for 34 years of service at the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River from 1987-2021, including roles as the first Water Safety Program Manager, instructor, presenter, wildland firefighter, Special Events Team member and active participant in numerous
river rescues.

*Robin M. Daniels Memorial Lifesaving Award:* Sparrowbush Engine Company, for 60 years of providing highly skilled volunteer emergency services in often challenging conditions on land and water, particularly at the Route 97 Hawk’s Nest and on the Delaware River.

*Partnership Award*: Trust for Public Land, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Sullivan County, and the Town of Delaware, for collaborating to transform an abandoned property in Callicoon, N.Y., into a 40-acre riverside park for public recreational use and municipal services.

*Outstanding Community Achievement Award: *The Town of Highland, N.Y., for supporting multiple beautification, recreational access and historic projects that spotlight the river and for revising the Town Zoning Code to conform to the Upper Delaware Land and Water Use Guidelines.

*Recreation Achievement Awards:* Knotweed Management Project, for the invasive plant species research and educational outreach efforts coordinated by Friends of the Upper Delaware River; and Keep Hawley-Honesdale Beautiful, for its accomplishments in roadside andriverside volunteer litter clean-up activities since 2017.

*Volunteer Award:* Edwin “Ed” Jackson of Narrowsburg, N.Y., for his nearly two-decade tenure as Town of Tusten Planning Board chairman, his leadership with the New York State Planning Federation and dedication to veterans’ causes.

*Cultural Achievement Awards: *Michael Rocco “Rocky” Pinciotti of Cochecton, N.Y., for his contributions as an artist, teacher and director of the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance Gallery from 2005-2020; and The Delaware Company, for keeping history alive through commemorations, new markers, a river trail extension and Sullivan County site programming at
Sullivan County’s Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History and Minisink Battleground Park.

*Community Service Award*: Andy Boyar of Eldred, N.Y., for his fervor to protect the health and safety of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, conception of the 15-community Upper Delaware Litter Sweep, presidency of the Upper Delaware Chapter of Trout Unlimited and fulfillment of local government leadership roles.

*Special Recognition Awards:* WJFF Radio Catskill, for its programming focus on Upper Delaware River Valley issues, interests, and individuals; and Bonnie Sheard of Milanville, Pa., for nearly four decades of work and volunteer activity at the National Park Service Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, including as manager of the Commercial & Special Park
Uses Program.

*Oaken Gavel Award:* Larry H. Richardson, Town of Cochecton, N.Y., representative from 1989 to present, for his leadership in chairing the Upper Delaware Council during 2020.

The banquet will take place at Central House Family Resort, at 81 Milanville Road in Beach Lake, Pa. A reception with hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar begins at 3 p.m. The buffet dinner is set for 4 p.m. Tickets are $30 and must be reserved by Sept. 3.

A chorus calls for N.Y. State funding for the Upper Delaware

There was an alphabet soup represented on the shores of the Delaware last week: the FUDR, the NYCDEP, the CDRW and the NYLCV. Oh, and the TPL!

They were all gathered there for one thing: M-O-N-E-Y.

Progress has been made on the federal level getting money back to the upper river, now it’s the turn of the state to show its support for the Delaware River, which is a significant economic engine for the economically depressed region.

So it made sense that two Delaware River region state legislators — N.Y. Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, and N.Y. State Senator Mike Martucci — were there as well, since they will be the “torchbearers” to help bring those dollars back home.

It also made sense that the president of the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) was there since it tracks legislative promises and whether those promises were kept.

And does the New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) fit into these funding machinations? 

On the surface, not exactly. But it is a keystone element whenever you talk Delaware River because the headwaters of the Delaware are captured in two huge reservoirs: the Pepacton and the Cannonsville — which, with the Neversink, supplies as much as 60% of New York City’s water.

Once upon a time, that was the NYCDEP’s  sole focus — drinking water for New York City. Over the past 10 years and more, its focus has widened to include the millions of people below its dams. After all, the Delaware is a significant source of Philadelphia’s drinking water — and for Trenton and a host of municipalities in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

It’s no surprise to hear Vincent (“Call me Vinney”) Sapienza, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, say that he’s here “to learn how the (NYC)DEP can collaborate and support the people who live here.”

“We have recognized,” says Sapienza, “that no one can make positive change without the collaboration of others.”

So here’s the not-so-secret sauce:  C-O-L-L-A-B-O-R-A-T-I-O-N. 

An unstoppable local force pitted against the immovable object of the state’s funding.

And what will this money get? A concrete example was the very ground beneath our feet: a public park being created through the collaboration among the Trust for Public Land (TPL) Sullivan County and the Town of Delaware.

“It was a campground which was damaged in the floods of ’05 and ’06,” explains Francis O’Shea from the Trust for Public Land, “and not much was done with it. Three years ago, we negotiated a deal that will create a new public park in an underserved area of the world.”

Collaborations have earned upper river communities significant federal funding for projects like stream bank restoration, flood mitigation, research into invasive species, habitat creation and/or stabilization and as here, improving river access. 

The glue for many of these collaborative efforts is the host of this “Day on the Delaware”: the Friends of the Upper Delaware River (FUDR). Its executive director, Jeff Skelding, has been seeking collaborators near and far to amplify the “voice” of the upper river region, like Trout Unlimited and the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW), whose work (with its many partners) over the past few years can be credited with bringing much of those federal dollars to the whole basin.

The upper river collaborations have been brought under one umbrella: the Alliance for the Upper Delaware River Watershed. A definition as well as the list of alliance members is below.

And here’s a story about it: https://delawarecurrents.org/2021/02/18/new-alliance-seeks-to-amplify-upper-delaware-river-voices/

Spurring all this collaborative action is the proviso that federal dollars must be matched dollar-for-dollar. So key to further projects for the Upper Delaware will be accessing state dollars to be used to match federal dollars.

“We don’t want to leave money on the table,” said Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

Martucci agreed, “It’s time for the state to kick in.”

He stood shoulder to shoulder with Gunther, as if on issues like this, party affiliation matters much less. He called for a “sustained commitment to the river from the state.”

New York State Senator Mike Martucci, a Republican, stands by as Democratic New York Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther talks about collaboration. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

The figure bandied about as a goal was $1 million, likely as a line item in the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

“I would bet a million dollars that this will happen,” said Gunther to smiles from the audience since that’s the figure these groups are aiming for.

“I’m all in,” she says, and went on to explain that the process works best if the information about how much money is needed for what is “spoon-fed” to legislators. 

“And if you have federal dollars waiting for matching funds, likely we can get a line item in the Environmental Protection Fund.”

Tighe, was likely taking note of these promises. It’s what the NYLCV does: hold legislators accountable for promises made.

But she was also optimistic: “Things that legislators respond to is their own local community.”

Was she bothered by the political divide that can sink the best of legislative intentions?

“At the end of the day, clean air and clean water are not partisan issues,” she said.

As promised, here’s a list of the Alliance for the Upper Delaware River:

According to its chief cook and bottle washer, FUDR’s Skelding: “The Alliance includes both groups and individuals. It is not a formal coalition nor is it incorporated in any way. I would describe it as a diverse group of individuals and organizations that formed to advocate for an increased investment by NYS in the Upper Delaware River watershed.”

FUDR

Appalachian Mountain Club

NYLCV

Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed 

Border Water Outfitters

Code Blue Foundation

Cross Current Guide Service

NY Council of Non-Profit Organizations

Delaware County Chamber of Commerce

Hancock Liquor Store

Delaware Highlands Conservancy

Sam Decker, River Guide

National Parks Conservation Association

Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District

EnvironCon

Deerpark Alliance

Catskill Center for Conservation and Development

Sullivan County Soil and Water Conservation District

The Camptons

UDR Tailwaters Coalition (Deposit, Hancock, Colchester)

Trout Unlimited

Upper Delaware Council

Wild Trout Federation

The Nature Conservancy

East Branch Outfitters

Catskill Mountainkeeper

Sullivan County Planning Department

Trust for Public Land

Full funding for the DRBC inches closer
Editorial Report

So, the good news? New Jersey has finally owned up to its responsibility to fund the Delaware River Basin Commission at $893,000.

To review: The Delaware River Basin Commission is the regulatory agency charged by the four river states — New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware — and the federal government to be “in charge” of the river’s water quality and quantity (think floods and droughts).

Back in 1988, all those parties agreed to a base line funding totaling $3,574,000.

Short sad story? The aggregated funding has never reached those levels. The closest it came was in 2009 when it reached $3.3 million — the last time the federal government gave anything. Since then, nothing from the federal government. For that matter, 2009 was the first time the federal government had given any money to the DRBC since 1997.

Here’s the record of funding for the DRBC since 1963, shortly after it was created.

The lowest total figure happened fairly recently in 2020: $1,594,755, less than half.

And this when the watershed is facing the effects of climate change, as well as a welcome interest in the health of the river from residents all over the basin.

The state of Delaware has been the only funder that has consistently given its “Fair Share” of $447,000.

 

Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf has been including the state’s full share in his budgets but the state’s legislature has whittled it down, likely reflecting the legislature’s displeasure with the DRBC’s decision banning fracking in the watershed.

It’s also possible that only some legislators hold that opinion. Many of them likely remain largely ignorant of the vital role the DRBC plays to help uphold water quality standards for the many municipalities that use the river as their drinking water source — and that includes Philadelphia.

Also, though all four basin states have Democratic governors, only Pennsylvania has a Republican-controlled legislature.

The DRBC has been been on a mission to increase understanding of its role by state legislators around the watershed as well as members of the U.S. Congress. The latter is especially important to advance legislation to shift the path of federal funding and turn those federal taps on.

Right now, the money from the federal government comes through a convoluted budget process that starts with its representative on the DRBC — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As the DRBC’s Director of External Affairs and Communications Peter Eschbach puts it, the local and regional offices of the USACE are fully supportive of the role of the DRBC, but its budgeting process ends up in the arms of the Department of the Army and its convoluted process fails to achieve the funding goals for the DRBC.

There have been attempts to find a different pathway for that funding, possibly through the Environmental Protection Agency, but that takes legislation and for that, perhaps the newly created bipartisan Delaware River Watershed Congressional Caucus, will gather the energy of the 22 (yes, that many) U.S. representatives whose districts are, at least partly,
in the watershed.

The roll call of supporters, so far, includes of course the two representatives who formed the caucus: Democrat U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado (NY-19) and Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1).

Here’s the story about its launch in April of this year.

Signed on so far (13, just over half):

From New York (the full complement of New York’s Delaware River representatives):
U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D. NY-18)
U.S Rep. Claudia Tenney (R. NY-22)

From Pennsylvania:
U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D. PA-5)
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D. PA-2)
U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (D. PA-7)
U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D. PA-6)
U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D. PA-4)
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D. PA-8)

From New Jersey:
U.S. Rep Chris Smith (R. NJ-4)
U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D. NJ-5)

From Delaware:
U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D.-At large)

The Delaware River Basin Commission has its supporters and detractors all over the watershed. But as we face the effects of climate change, it provides — in its various advisory committees– a place where different points of view are expressed and better understood.

We all benefit when all points of view are understood.

Delaware River drownings: Persistent and preventable

Here’s a terrifying prediction about drownings in the two National Park units on the Delaware River:

According to the data: Our next victim will be a 27-year-old male from NJ. He will drown while swimming in the river without a lifejacket on a Saturday afternoon in July or August. It will happen between 3 and 6 pm. It will likely happen near Tocks Island or at Karamac. 

This terrible forecast is from the National Park Service. Its experts have combed through the files it has on the 74 drownings they have recorded since 1980 in the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River as well as 101 in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: a grim total of 175.

This dire prediction is the result.

The key phrase in their prediction is “without a life jacket.” There are signs urging people to wear a life jacket all over the national park units, especially in areas that might tempt a swimmer.

But.

As Ingrid Peterec, Chief of Interpretation for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River puts it, people drive for a couple of hours to get to the area. They pull up where it looks like a great place to picnic and soon, someone (usually a male between the ages of 18 and 30) gets the idea that it might be nice to dive into what are the tempting waters of the Delaware River.

Maybe they even see the signs about wearing a life jacket (“Wear it!”), but most places in either park are far from where you might buy a life jacket.

Even though there are beaches where loaner life jackets are on hand — in the 74 miles miles of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River and the 40 miles of the DWGNRA — there are lots of places by the river where people might try their luck.

Too often, it’s bad luck.

The river is more dangerous than it looks, especially after a heavy rain when you can’t see the rocks and other debris that is carried downstream.

And the currents and eddies are unpredictable, noted Kathleen Sandt, public affairs specialist with the DWGNRA. Just because you might be a strong swimmer in a lake or pool or even the ocean, the river presents a whole different challenge.

Confusingly, the current beneath the surface runs faster than the surface water. Also, the river bed is uneven. Trying to stand up is difficult with water whipping you around, and the surface beneath your feet is treacherous with rocks and tree limbs.

Take, for example, one of the recent drownings. A person decided to wade without a life jacket.

When he started out, the river was to his knees. Moments later he was under water.

He drowned.

“When you’re walking in the river, you could just be wading up to your knees. Take three steps and you’re over your head,” said Peterec. Adding to the problem is that life jackets need to be rather snug. The term the lifesaving people use is “properly fitted.”

Just having a loose life jacket on does you no good since if you’re in the water the life jacket will lift up and you’ll sink.

On a hot day, who wants to bother with a snug-fitting life jacket?

YOU DO!

“You have to make it snug,” Peterec said. “For people not familiar with it, the best way is from top to bottom, like a shirt. If it’s not cinched tight enough, it will float and your head will be inside it.”

The same thing can happen if it’s not buckled. And make sure you’re wearing the right size: Adults need adult sizes, not children’s. And vice versa.

“These deaths are 100% preventable,” said Peterec, you can hear a touch of frustration as well as sadness in her voice.

And it’s all so arbitrary. Last year, with the number of people visiting the park units way up, there were no drownings in the Upper Delaware but five in the DWGNRA. This year those figures are reversed. And these figures are only people who drowned in one of the National Park units — there is lots more of the Delaware and lives are claimed  farther downriver as well, so these precautions are applicable to the whole river.

The National Park Service has taken out about 40 public service announcements in the Philadelphia and New York City metropolitan areas. Sandt said more than 75% of drowning victims at DWGNRA hail from the greater NYC metropolitan area.

In addition, both parks are targeting those areas where most of the drownings happen with its own patrols.  DWG has a cadre of River Ambassadors (here’s a link if you’re interested) and it works with volunteer organizations like the National Canoe Safety Patrol, especially on weekends.

“Just because you know the river outside your front door, doesn’t mean you know the river up here,” said Sandt.

To emphasize that point, in early July, a 32-year-old man from Bucks County, Pa., drowned near Bull’s Island Recreation Area in New Jersey. His death is not part of the five recorded by the national parks units.

The river changes day to day, and as Sandt said: “The river is different wherever you are.”

She added, “Before you come, that’s when we need to get the message out.”

To that end, pass this story along to anyone coming anywhere on the Delaware and remind people about the need for safety.

Know (and tame) your knotweed

Gathered on the banks of the East Branch of the Delaware River, they all had their stories to tell of an ongoing battle with knotweed, which on this sunny Saturday morning grew tall enough to blot out any view of the river, not more than 50 feet away.

“Knotweed has taken away my joy,” said Valerie Rodgers-Garcia, who owns riverfront property in Hancock, N.Y.

About 25 people are here, hoping that Steven Schwartz, who’s heading up the Friends of the Upper Delaware knotweed project, will have the best way to rid their properties of the three varieties found locally: Giant Knotweed, Bohemian Knotweed and Japanese Knotweed.

What is this pesky plant? Well, for starters, it’s invasive, having come from somewhere in Asia, likely in the 1800s when it was imported for its ability to flourish in gardens.

And everywhere else, it seems. 

Though it clearly thrives on riverbanks, obscuring views of and access to rivers and streams, it seems happy enough to grow anywhere, especially on recently disturbed land. In addition to its height (some varieties up to 16 feet), it can crowd out native plants that are better at stabilizing the riverbanks.

Not a short guy, Brett Lorenzen, from the Friends of the Upper River, is dwarfed by knotweed. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Eric Burkhart, a botanist from Pennsylvania State University, who is a partner with Schwartz in this knotweed project confirmed that knotweed grows all over Pennsylvania, though different species tend to be a problem in different areas. In central Pennsylvania, it’s mostly Giant Knotweed. Here in the Delaware River watershed it’s mostly Japanese knotweed as well as the hybrid. 

All the varieties are champion propagators using pollination, as well as side shoots that come out underground from the central rhizome. And the real difficulty is that, just as might think you’re getting rid of it, as stalks break off, they can be carried in water downstream and re-root to produce more plants. This is a special problem after flooding, when they can be carried far and are happy to root in the silt deposited as flood waters recede.

They occupy riverbanks but don’t help it: Instead of dying down on the ground as most small plants do to overwinter, the stalks stand upright and barren, so it increases the sediment that can pour into the river with heavy rainfalls.

It has earned itself a place on the list “100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Species,” put out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It shares this dubious distinction with the common malaria mosquito and another pest of the Delaware River watershed, the zebra mussel.

As always, the views in the Upper Delaware are terrific, but the fierce hedge in the middle, on the left, is knotweed. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

And there’s this from Wikipedia: The invasive root system and strong growth can damage concrete foundations, buildings, flood defenses, roads, paving, retaining walls and architectural sites.

At the base of the plant is its rhizome, which sends out significant runners many feet long to reproduce but neither is deeply rooted, which is part of the reason it’s not great for holding soil in place, explained Jessica Newbern, a biologist with the National Park Service, a partner with FUDR on this knotweed project.

Jessica Newbern, a biologist with the National Park Service, explains the different types of knotweed to Valerie Rodgers-Garcia. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

It’s funded with a federal Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund grant in partnership with the NPS, and the National Fish and Wildlife Service, the New York League of Conservation Voters, Stroud Research Center and Shippensburg University. The overarching goal is to educate the public (that’s today’s gathering) and to better understand the impact of the spread of knotweed in the Upper Delaware River watershed. 

But back to the grassroots of knotweed eradication: people. 

Both Jeff Skelding, the executive director of the Friends of the Upper Delaware, and Schwartz emphasized the crucial part that landowners play in reducing and even eradicating this weed. But they also said it was important to join forces with neighbors, since if you get rid of it on your property it can easily grow back from a neighbor’s land.

It is tenacious. The people gathered here in Firemen’s Field in Hancock, N.Y., wanted to know how to get rid of it. And if you’re like them, and have a knotweed problem, check out this link at the FUDR site. It lists the various ways that you can use, from constant cutting, to careful use of herbicide to what was certainly the most favored from the list: goats.

Yep. Goats love to nosh on knotweed. Today’s goats were from Grant’s Goats, run by Terry Grant. One of the participants, Tim Greenberg, asked if it was possible to rent a goat, and there was a murmur of interest from the rest of the audience.

And Grant said he’d be interested, but pointed out that if you were to have a goat to eat your knotweed, you better set up a chair near the plants to keep the goats happy — apparently they like people! And keep them fenced in, because they’ll eat everything.

There’s another demonstration and talk on July 17, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Will Smith Memorial Park, Deposit, N.Y.

You can write with questions to knotweed@fudr.org

And Rodgers-Garcia gave a thumbs up to the talk: “There is hope!”

Terry Grant, owner of Grant’s Goats, places a kid next to its mother in the experimental patch using goats to graze on — and hopefully eradicate — knotweed. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

And this just in from the Brodhead Watershed Association, based in Stroudsburg, Pa.

Brodhead Watershed Association will host a workshop in July on how to control knotweed along creeks — and in your backyard.

Register for a live, on-stream workshop led by Robin Anglemyer. Learn the right time to cut knotweed, what tools you need, how low to cut it  (hint: ankle height is too low!), and what to do next. 

The tentative date is Wednesday, July 7, at 4 p.m. — but exact timing of the workshop will depend on weather conditions and knotweed growth. 

Register now to get detailed updates.

Go to https://brodheadwatershed.org/greening-mountainhome for more information about the knotweed removal project.

Water Table: Building consensus among the Delaware River’s stakeholders

If in the past five years, you’ve talked to Kathy Klein, executive director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, you’ve no doubt heard her hopes to develop a watershed-wide group focused on water quality that is open to all of the very divergent watershed stakeholders: from academics, to advocacy groups, to industry, to the environmental agencies of the four watershed states, and on and on.

She’s joined forces with three other strong women who work in the watershed, as well as the William Penn Foundation, to bring you: the Water Table.

It’s still a toddler compared with the organizations these women are a part of: Kelly Anderson is the program manager for the Water Resources Planning and Protection Program at the Philadelphia Water Department, Patty Elkis is director of planning for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and Skelly Holmbeck is the executive director of the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin. (Here’s a story about WRADRB’s new president.)

The initial aims of the Water Table are:

  • to build understanding, trust and compassion
  • to start to identify common issues
  • to expand people’s networks

The big deliverable? An action plan of shared commitments.

Kathy Klein is the executive director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
Kelly Anderson is program manager for the Water Resources Planning and Protection Program at the Philadelphia Water Department.
Patty Elkis is director of planning for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
Skelly Holmbeck is the executive director of the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin (pictured at a stream clean-up.)

The self-described ringleader of the group when three of the four leaders met on a sunny day in Stockton, N.J., is Elkis, which makes sense since the DVRPC is the project convener, but she is quick to point out that there is close collaboration among all four of the organizations mentioned.

Klein was the executive director of that organization for about three years before coming to the PDE and to some degree this project owes its birth to her experience there.

As it’s explained on the DVRPC website:

“This initiative formed in response to the realization that while the WPF (William Penn Foundation) Watershed Protection Program for the Delaware River Basin has engaged numerous conservation nonprofits, and more recently local governments, many professionals in the water user community (water utilities, industrial water users, the port community, and consultants that serve them) are not part of the conversation, although many share the mission to promote conservation and wise use of the Delaware River Basin’s water resources.”

Those last mentioned “professionals in the water user community” are essentially the members of the WRADRB.

According to its website, the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin (WRA) was established in 1959 by representatives from industry, public and private utilities and other organizations that had wide-ranging interests in water resources and sought to ensure public participation in the management of the Delaware River and its tributaries.

Its membership is a who’s who of significant players in the river’s water issues. You can check them out here.

And it certainly seems wise to have those people involved in what has to be an ongoing, broad-based conversation about the watershed, especially in the era of climate change.

From her experience, Klein noted, “I became aware that the private sector was not always invited to be at the table, even though those were often the first people organizations run to when they need money.”

So what has this toddler been up to?

Well, it has a Steering Committee, which had its first meeting about a year ago. Here are its members:

  • Kelly Anderson, Philadelphia Water Department
  • Marc Cammarata, Philadelphia Water Department
  • Skelly Holmbeck, Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin
  • Kate Hutelmyer, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
  • Kathy Klein, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
  • Kim Long, Exelon
  • Sandra Meola, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed
  • Meishka Mitchell, Coopers Ferry Partnership
  • Susan Myerov, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
  • Drew Shaw, Montgomery County Planning Commission
  • Chris Sturm, New Jersey Future
  • Steve Tambini, DRBC Delaware River Basin Commission

As you can see, right from the get-go, there’s been a desire to be as inclusive as possible. For the purposes of the Water Table, there are three significant sectors to bring together: nonprofit conservation organizations, the water-user community, and local government.

As Elkis said, “No one sector can do it all.”

With the aim of getting a better understanding of various sectors’ knowledge and perceptions of each other through in-depth interviews, interviews were conducted in the late fall of 2020 through early winter 2021. Here’s the summary.

And here’s the summary of the most recent Water Table meeting, held on April 16.

All the women acknowledged that there’s a lot of work to be done behind the scenes, as it were, before any specific actions take place. They also acknowledged that there are lots of misunderstandings among all the stakeholders and that, as is so often the case, trust is an issue.

From Anderson’s perspective, “Managing the watershed is all about connecting the dots. Everyone needs to be part of the conversation.”

The dots are the interpersonal relationships that help to build trust.

They have sent out a questionnaire that seeks to get at what the common areas are, and they were happy to see that most responses included — as a first step — spending more time with each other to get to know one another.

The women acknowledge that there are strong personalities in the watershed, and there’s lot of passion in all the sectors.

“Everyone want to improve water quality and improve access,” said Elkis. “How you get there is where there’s divergence.

“That’s where the rub is.”

At the moment, the Water Table is focused on the Philadelphia metropolitan area, which is where the work of the DVRPC is located: a diverse nine-county region in two states: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania; and Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Mercer in New Jersey.

If you’re interested you can reach out to Patty Elkis at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission: pelkis@dvrpc.org

Meet Jennifer Garigliano: “Do you know me? I’m not a quiet person.”
The new president of the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin

The Delaware River is 330 miles long, but only if you don’t include the two branches that snake into New York. 

Understanding the whole river from its sources to where it empties into the Atlantic is the goal of the new president of the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin (more on that and why it’s important in a minute).

Its new president, Jennifer Garigliano, has been working in New York City’s water supply system for almost nine years. She’s chief of staff to Paul Rush, deputy commissioner for the Bureau of Water Supply, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection.

So she knows a thing or two about that massive water system. She’s also been charged with the bureau’s policy surrounding the releases from the three Delaware River reservoirs into the Delaware River — Pepacton, Cannonsville and Neversink.

She’s been the point person in the on-going discussions of those releases in the Regulated Flow Advisory Committee, a special advisory committee housed, if you will, with the Delaware River Basin Commission. 

The RFAC is very focused on those releases and ensuring that the upper river’s ecosystem is not adversely affected by what is a very complicated system of releases. 

The RFAC includes representatives from the New York City DEP — that’s Garigliano — but because New York City DEP isn’t one of the members of the original compact that created the DRBC, the RFAC can’t be exactly like the other advisory committees. (Are you keeping up with all the groups and acronyms?)

It’s mostly because of that quirk in how the DRBC was set up (that NYC isn’t part of the DRBC) that New York City DEP joined the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin back when it was created in 1959, as it offered, Garigliano explained, a way to be involved with the watershed.

 “NYCDEP plays a critical role in the watershed,” she said. “We discovered WRADRB and it met our needs to be involved in the watershed. It’s unique since it’s the only stakeholder group that actually represents the water users.”

According to its website, the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin (WRA) was established in 1959 by representatives from industry, public and private utilities and other organizations that had wide-ranging interests in water resources and sought to ensure public participation in the management of the Delaware River and its tributaries. Its membership is a who’s who of significant players in the river’s water issues. You can check them out here.

The WRADRB has kept a pretty low profile in the watershed, but that looks likely to change with Garigliano at the helm.

“Do you know me?” she asked with a laugh. “I’m not a quiet person.”

She very much expects the WRADRB to be involved in all the conversations about how the river is used. Notably, Garigliano is the first person from NYCDEP to be in a leadership role in WRADRB.

And why now? She said it’s about time.

She’s very direct about it. She’s seen what you might call a rift between the upper basin and the lower basin — from her perspective the two don’t understand how important they are to each other.

She’s been active on “whole basin” issues for about five years, and the biggest thing she’s learned is that “there’s a disconnect between the upper basin and the lower basin.”

“My goal (as president of WRADRB) is to heal this rift between the two,” she said.

In a nutshell, the whole watershed needs to understand more about the whole watershed: “What happens in the upper basin affects the lower, and vice versa.”

From her perspective, the biggest basin issues are the competing interests, “everybody’s using this river, but the interests don’t line up easily.

“For example, fishing is at odds with flooding and the problem is the inability of groups to talk to each other and work towards compromise.

“Nothing is going to be perfect, but if we fail to compromise, the problems are only going to get bigger.”

She noted that in the era of climate change, we’ll have more water when there’s water — think floods — and less water when there’s less — think droughts.

“We all have to be on board and find the best solution,”she said.

A prime example of the tension is the heated conversations about the investigation of how the F .E. Walter Dam reservoir (which is run by the United States Army Corps of Engineers) might help the lower basin deal with droughts.

One of the biggest ways the upper and lower basins are connected is that New York City’s reservoirs have become responsible for keeping the salt front (from the ocean pushing up the river) away from the drinking water intakes of Philadelphia — salt water would break its water system.

“During the next drought of record, New York City reservoirs will not have enough water to push that salt front back and meet the demands on its water supply from New York City users,” she explained.

“If the corps executed a slight change to its existing operating procedure, that reservoir water could help Philadelphia,” she said.

Her hope is that the corps and the Bureau of Water Supply could develop different scenarios as part of this reevaluation, which will be shared with the people of the Lehigh Valley who are very concerned about what they see as New York City bigfooting in their water system. 

For more on those tensions, check here.

Garigliano would say that we can’t afford to focus on individual water systems, whether it’s the NYC reservoirs, the Lehigh River or the Schuykill River as separate from each other — it’s all one water system.

She is, not surprisingly, a big fan of what she sees as the greater flexibility that the Bureau of Water Supply has demonstrated over the past 20 years.

“We run a forecast-informed operation,” she explained, which means that it is constantly looking at all the variables: runoff, what weather can be expected — as rain or snow or snow melt. It works with the National Weather Service to determine how much water is coming into the system and how much is needed.

“All the data helps us understand how much we can release,” she said and points out that the corps is already operating a forecast-informed system in the South Pacific area — some or all of seven states in the Southwest.

“If we could adopt that in the Philadelphia region, that would be a big boost to the water system.

“They would start storing water earlier. With more water available, they likely could release more water for the benefit of the anglers as well as the various recreational activities.

“If they had more water, the forecasting would give them enough time to evacuate the extra water so it could still serve its primary function as a flood-control dam.”

Part of the misunderstanding between the upper and lower basins lies in the vast area that the Delaware River watershed encompasses. It’s not just that NYC is responsible for the water supply for Philadelphia, 300-plus miles away, but the actual acreage in the watershed is enormous. In all, it contains 13,539 square miles, including the 782-square-mile Delaware Bay. (The watershed is bigger than the state of Maryland.)

Each end of the basin can be experiencing different weather. Snow, for example, can stay on the ground in the upper basin, while precipitation in the south can be rain, which runs off.

And the different reservoirs can have different responsibilities, some are charged with flood control, others are responsible for drinking water. There’s one, Merrill Creek in Warren County, N.J., that was built specifically to supply water to the river when there are drought conditions and the power companies still need water.

“Our reservoirs are not flood-control reservoirs. Their purpose is to supply drinking water for New York City. But with the forecast-informed system, we can really look at storage and can operate at a slightly higher risk, using science to help address stakeholder groups’ concerns,” she explained, offering the New York City system as an example of a way to improve the whole watershed’s response to both flooding and drought.

Responding to various stakeholder groups is part of her job at NYC’s Bureau of Water Supply.

In the upper basin, there’s an almost constant demand for more water to be released to insure prime habitat for cold-water loving trout.

In the lower basin, the demand is for NYC to keep what is called a “void” in the reservoirs to allow them to capture the extra water that they see as a flooding threat. But if they reduce the water held in the reservoirs, there won’t be enough water to release to keep cold-water fish happy during the warmest parts of the year.

It’s a balancing act: Who wants how much water when? That seems to be the theme of most of the concerns. There’s also some tension between the parts of New York State that are in New York City’s watershed and those that are nearby, but not part of the watershed.

NYCDEP spends a considerable amount of time and attention on its watershed ensuring not just that there’s enough quantity but also that the quality of the water stays high. 

In fact, it’s almost as if there are two states, inside and outside NYC’s watershed.

Garigliano doesn’t deny it.

“Our response is that the water supply is funded by the ratepayers of New York City. We have a responsibility to those ratepayers to use their money to improve the water supply — anything directly related to the water supply. Outside of that we would not spend ratepayers’ money.”

It’s all a balancing act, and often any one side might be unhappy.

Garigliano is up for the challenge.

 “My involvement with the WRADRB is to bring people together who need to work together.”


Stakeholders weigh in on Garigliano’s appointment

“On behalf of the Delaware River Basin Commission, I would like to offer congratulations and extend our best wishes to Jen Garigliano as the new President of the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin (WRADRB).

“The WRADRB and its members have a long and successful history of representing the interests of water users throughout the basin. Jen’s leadership and extensive water industry experience will serve the association and its members well, and we look forward to working with her, the WRADRB and all basin stakeholders to meet our shared water resource goals.”

 — Steve Tambini, executive director of DRBC

“It is wonderful to have someone as President of WRA who lives in the upper part of the basin and whose work involves management of the largest reservoir system in the Delaware River Basin.

“Her work involves, among other things, protecting water quality in those reservoirs and in the entire upper part of the basin. Jen brings solid management skills, an amiable style, and broad knowledge and perspective to her new role as President of WRA. I am looking forward to working with her on the Board.”

— Preston Luitweiler, past chair of the WRA board

“WRA is thrilled to have Jen Garigliano as the next board president.

“She has proven to be a unifying force in the basin, synthesizing the work and goals of a constellation of experts. With her help we will be able to better confront and resolve the issues that now threaten the integrity of the Delaware River Water Basin.” 

— said Skelly Holmbeck, executive director of WRADRB

One Bug: A day on the Delaware

When I get a chance to get onto the Delaware River, I jump at the opportunity, especially the upper river, where trout fishing flourishes.

Jeff Skelding, the executive director of the Friends of the Upper Delaware, invited me to its One Bug fly-fishing event — a two-day trout-fishing competition where the biggest prize is bragging rights — no small thing among anglers.

The morning of May 1 started out rainy and chilly — a typical spring day in the upper Delaware. And most of the time when I travel farther upriver for an event, it’s usually raining, especially if it’s outdoors

Wet clothes get really uncomfortable and cold, so I made an investment in very glamorous waders — which you can see in a photo of me at the end of this story — and followed Skelding’s advice: Dress for temperatures a lot lower than whatever the water report says.

So I did. But by the time I got to Hancock, N.Y., the sun was bright, and I almost thought I had the wrong place. The river was shining in the sun, and where we were going to put in, the river looked like it was in a big hurry.

The rushing waters of the West Branch of the Delaware River where we entered the river made me a little nervous.
VIDEO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Time for a confession: I love all sorts of water, rivers, lakes, and of course, the ocean, but I can’t swim and I get nervous in small boats.

It so happens that the previous day, Skelding had asked the people in charge of the New York City reservoirs (the NYC reservoirs capture the upper Delaware River water) to release more water. But when the river is low upriver, chances are it can be low downriver as well, so the request was denied.

But lo and behold, the rain gods had delivered during the night and the river was running fast, especially where we were going to put in, just near the Route 191 bridge in Hancock, N.Y. 

Skelding was taking me on the river in a drift boat, much like the ones the river guides use for the One Bug. The name comes from how they are used — drifting down the river. (A great way to see the river!)

Drifting down the West Branch of the Delaware River approaching the point where the West and East branches meet. You’ll hear some muffled voices – that’s Jeff Skelding pointing out that the East Branch — a little off in the distance — is comparably calm. The two branches fan out to different areas in New York and the West Branch received more rain overnight than the East Branch, so the West is running faster. VIDEO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Jeff Skelding in side view with the “point” of land that separates the West and East Branches of the Delaware River over his shoulder. See the clearer, calmer water of the East Branch a little farther away from our drift boat. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Even as the branches merge, the East Branch waters, which are on the left as you go downriver, stay clearer. This is what both branches — and the upper Delaware — looks like when there hasn’t been heavy rain. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Guides are key to the One Bug, and hired by the FUDR. Most drift boats have three seats, the one in the middle is for the guide, who’s in charge of guiding the boat, and there are two for the anglers. 

Using a drift boat to fish on the Delaware River. This is Team Lapin with Gregg Eiband casting and his wife, Christine LaRocca sitting in the back. Their guide, John Fletcher, sits in the middle. It all seems pretty mellow. As Christine said: “It’s (One Bug) a marathon, not a sprint.”

All the guides are deeply knowledgeable about where you’re most likely to find fish — and licensed by the National Park Service. But the river, the fish and the bugs are unpredictable. The short time I was on the river, we saw no bugs, and therefore only saw one trout rising. It’s when the fish rise to catch those bugs that you know where to place your fly. And the flies vary depending on the time of year and what bugs are attracting the attention of what fish — a surprisingly exact science.

Skelding said that the upper reaches had more luck with catching fish than the part of the main stem we were on. That’s part of the lure of fishing — it’s a combination of luck and talent.

For the One Bug, each angler is half of a two-person team, and usually teams are split up to ensure fairness. This year, as a concession to the horrible year of Covid, teams were allowed to be together in the same boat.

And the name of the contest — One Bug — refers to one of its big rules: you’re only allowed to use one fly, or lure, during the contest. So there’s a lot of thought given to what that one vital piece of equipment will be. The anglers can have second thoughts about their choice, but no second chance to choose.

You’ll see in the list of winners below that there’s a Squirrel Award — given to the most heroic rescue of a fly by a guide. That’s important because if that fly is lost, the angler is out of the competition.

There were 23 boats, 23 guides and 23 teams.

And here’s the list of winners:

Top Teams:

1st Simms/Costa: Rex Messing and Steven Spurgeon, 1010 points

2nd Currently Sober – Joe Cusato and Eric Hirschberg, 930 points

3rd Kyped Crusaders – Travis Conley and Alex Smith Constantine, 830 points

Top Individuals:

1st Steve Spurgeon 580

2nd Travis Conley 550

3rd Joe Cusato 510

Top Guides:

1st Darren Rist

2nd Luc Genovese

3rd Ryan Furtak

Squirrel Award (most heroic rescue of a fly in peril): Jared Mink

Biggest Fish: Jiri Hill 22” Brown on a streamer

And I promised you a photo of me:

Proof of the day: Here I am on Jeff Skelding’s drift boat. You can’t quite see the elegant waders that I have on! PHOTO BY JEFF SKELDING

Lampreys: ugly? Maybe, but they play a big role in river health.
Anglers take note

You might look at a lamprey and go “EWWWW.”

But, if you’re interested in the health of the Delaware River, you should say “Yay!”

Which is what Jessica Newbern, a biologist with the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, would say, as would her colleague, Andy Weber, an ecologist with that national park. 

Jessica Newbern, a biologist with the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, thinks that lampreys are “cute.” PHOTO FROM THE NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE
Andy Weber, an ecologist with the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River PHOTO BY STEVEN GRANT SMITH

The two posted some photos of lampreys in the Delaware River on the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River’s Facebook page. (You should like it!)

Looking at the mouth of an adult sea lamprey taken from the Delaware River. It’s the photo that started all the fuss when two biologists from the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River posted it on Facebook. PHOTO BY EVAN FAULK

And my, the fur (well, the lamprey IS a fish, so no fur) did fly! Mostly from the haters! If you go the Facebook page, you can see the back and forth.

But let’s get our facts straight. Most importantly, all the experts agree, the lamprey isn’t interested in attaching to us humans, so don’t be afraid of the water!

Also, the lamprey is a fish, and so is an eel but they are only distantly related to each other. So references to “lamprey eels” are mixing up two different things. The proper name for this critter is a sea lamprey, which reflects the large part of its life cycle spent in the ocean.

They get some of their bad reputation not so much from what they eat (fish) but how they eat: They attach themselves to fish and suck blood and muscle. The non-fans have christened them “Vampires of the Deep.” As you can see from the photos, they don’t have jaws, but their circular mouths are ringed with teeth.

Bloodsuckers, sort of like mosquitos. Only mosquitos target us humans, and the lampreys do not.

‘They have a face only a mother could love’

One up for the lampreys. Let’s dig a little deeper to find out why there are enthusiastic fans of the lamprey (for example, Newbern thinks they’re “cute!”) and to understand where some of their bad press comes from (the Great Lakes) and why.

Likely you’ll only see lampreys in the Delaware when they’re racing upriver to spawn. The males build nestlike depressions in the gravel bed of a stream. The female lays lots of eggs that lodge in the rocks around the nest and soon the eggs hatch into larva called ammocoetes — blind wormlike larvae that float downriver and burrow into the silt.

They stay in that silt, benefitting the river by filter-feeding (much like mussels and oysters) for about three to four years. (There’s benefit #2.)

Then they start to change, assuming adult form for the downriver trip to the ocean. Their mouths become suckers and they get that rather nasty looking circle of teeth.

And this part is a little gross, I’ll grant you. Once it gets to the ocean it uses that sucking to attach to bony fish, and use their teeth and a specialized tongue to rasp into the flesh where they suck on blood and muscle.

It’s a pretty strong suction, “like putting your hand over a Shop Vac,” says Marc Gaden, communications director and legislative liaison for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

He’s in position to know about the “bad side” of lampreys since they are indeed a real problem in the Great Lakes but even he wants to set the record straight.

“Yes, they have a face only a mother could love,” he said, “But it’s good to encourage them in their native ranges. It was non-native lampreys that invaded the Great Lakes who are virulent like killer bees. They took over the system.”

So, let’s back up a bit to the behaviors of “our” lampreys in the Delaware River watershed. Newbern said if lampreys are able to follow their instincts they spend most of their lives in the ocean and only come upstream to spawn. That journey is the last big expenditure of energy. They spawn and die.

There’s a bonus from those deaths. It helps those little “baby” lampreys, the ammocoetes, who get all their nutrients from fresh water. They are quite small. But then as returning adults coming up from the ocean, they are larger and bring a large influx of marine-derived energy. 

When they die the whole ecosystem benefits, ensuring that the ammocoetes as well as other very small insects and other river critters thrive, explained Timothy Wildman, a fisheries biologist with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment.(Benefit #3) 

And the little critters aren’t the only beneficiaries of the lampreys’ upstream spawning. They are what Alison A. Bowden, an aquatic ecologist for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, called “ecosystem engineers.”

When the adults actively build nests, they move rocks with their suction mouths to create depressions. Breaking up the river bottom makes the river bottom healthier and in the process of nest building, they increase the diversity of insects that live in silt. (Benefit #4)

And for our anglers out there, Benefit #5 is all of that and how they build their nests and spawn in spring. 

Wildman again: When adult sea lampreys spawn in the spring, it’s the same habitat that trout and salmon use for spawning — the tail edge of pools. The lampreys pile rocks downstream. 

Their digging creates an ideal spawning environment for trout. “We hope to find sea lamprey nests to make spawning easier for brown trout in the fall,” he said.

We might not like the way they look or the way they feed, but Bowden points out that they are a very old species. The earliest fossils of lampreys is from some 225 millions year ago — today’s sea lamprey is very similar. 

“When nature comes up with something that works, it doesn’t change,” said Bowden.

The lamprey have gathered at a spawning site in the Mill River, Taunton, Mass. You can see how they’re using their mouths to attach to rocks to move them around — especially at the 1:34 mark of the video. FROM THE NATURE CONSERVANCY MILL RIVER RESTORATION PROJECT. 

Following their noses

Their usual life history involves parasitism when they get into the ocean. Ocean fish can usually handle it since they are larger and the lampreys mostly don’t attach for very long. The lampreys and those ocean fish have evolved together as part of the same finely balanced ecosystem.

“They don’t often kill the fish, which really is a better idea for both fish,” said Bowden, though we don’t really know much about their life in the ocean — much like another “beauty” of the Delaware — the horseshoe crab, known for its annual migration to the shores of Delaware Bay to spawn. Afterwards the crabs return to the ocean.

Those horseshoe crabs can be relied on to return to the Delaware Bay year after year.

Not so these lampreys. Some will, of course return, but they don’t return like so many fish do, to their native waters. The lampreys in the North Atlantic, and in the northeast, turn toward land as their instinct tells them to.

Instinct and those ammocoetes, which excrete a pheromone that will travel down to the ocean and “signal” to the returning lampreys that there’s a good spot for spawning somewhere up river.

Basically the lampreys make a sharp right turn to follow that scent.

“Their brain is mostly nose,” says Gaden. By the time they reach their destination they’re nearly dead. Their digestive system has shut down and they’re blind. The males telegraph via pheromones to females when they’ve found a good nesting site and the females will pick up that scent from miles away and head for it straight as an arrow.

But this “follow your nose” way of breeding mixes the lamprey population so that all the lamprey that come into rivers in the northeast are essentially of the same model — they are one spawning population. When they turn toward land, they pick up and follow the first scent they find.

When lamprey populations decline, without ammocoetes, there’s a chance that they won’t get that scent and won’t breed where they have been native. Sometimes a dam has been built and that blocks their path. There’s a significant commitment from states and environmental organizations to restore native lamprey populations where they have faltered, recognizing their value to the river’s ecosystem. 

“In the realm of fish restoration,” Wildman explains, “lampreys are an easy one.”

Mostly it involves finding ways to repopulate with native lamprey that have been blocked by dams. That’s the work that Wildman and his fellow fish biologist Kevin Job have been doing, re-populating the Shetucket River, a tributary of the Thames River, which empties into Long Island Sound at New London, Conn.

CT DEEP seasonal resource assistant Charlie Dyke releases pre-spawn sea lamprey into Beaver Brook, Franklin, Conn. A total of 160 pre-spawn Sea Lamprey from the Holyoke Fishlift on the Connecticut River was stocked into the Shetucket River drainage to begin reestablishing historic runs to this system. PHOTO BY CTDEEP DIADROMOUS FISHERIES

And so, now that I’ve created more fans for this curious critter, what’s the problem in the Great Lakes?

Well, in a nutshell, man, and our desire to use nature for our own designs without understanding the law of unintended consequences.

Back before the railroads, water transportation was the easiest route to transport goods and people. So a myriad of canals were created to facilitate that. The most likely route for lampreys is the Welland Canal, which was built in 1919 to take boats (and lampreys) around Niagara Falls, connecting Lake Ontario (the lake that connects to the ocean via the St. Lawrence River) to Lake Erie.

But other possibilities include the Erie Canal which connects to the Great Lakes via the Finger Lakes. Or another involves a watershed breach between the watersheds of the upper Susquehanna River and those same Finger Lakes, which could explain the lamprey seen in Lake Ontario in the 1830s. By 1939 they were in all the lakes.

A fascinating discussion of those possibilities is here: https://afspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00028487.2013.879818

Lampreys in the Great Lakes

Gaden said there are native lampreys in the Great Lakes. What is clear is that the now land-locked ocean lampreys wreaked havoc in the Great Lakes wherever they went — which was everywhere. 

According to the records of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, only one in seven fish survived an attachment by a lamprey. It was a tremendous hit to the then-thriving commercial fisheries on the lakes, and the commission itself was largely created to fight the incursion. The fish in the Great Lakes are generally smaller than those in the ocean, and bear in mind that these fish and lampreys didn’t evolve together.

In the 1950s, the commission started its work to fight the lampreys, but as Gaden points out, “From a 40,000-foot view, we have few tools once an invasive species makes its inroads. Because they breed, the problem only gets worse.”

The commission is still fighting. 

Since the ’50s there have been very specific chemicals that target the lampreys, called lampricides, that affect only lampreys and dissipate within a few hours. It’s applied to stream beds where there are larvae. By reapplying it once every four years you essentially stop the “scent radar” that attracts lampreys to spawn there.

But Gaden is interested in other control techniques that could marry up, interestingly, with restoration projects. Using that irresistible scent from larvae to attract the lampreys and then capturing the fish and using those fish to restore other areas — connected to the ocean — to restore a diminished population elsewhere.

Some of the biggest obstacles lampreys face are those dams, and there’s work to study if creating a sort of pegboard fish ladder where the dams aren’t too high or too steep to allow the lampreys to wriggle up, attaching to the board with those suction mouths to climb up — much as lampreys do when they encounter a not-very-steep waterfall.

By various means, sea-lamprey control is a success in the Great Lakes. Here’s Gaden:

Sea lamprey control in the Great Lakes (and Lake Champlain and the Finger Lakes for that matter) has been a tremendous success. In the Great Lakes, sea lamprey populations have been reduced by around 90 to 95 percent overall. In Lakes Michigan and Huron, the populations are at historic low levels (post invasion of course). In Lake Ontario, populations have been low and essentially at target for decades. Sea lamprey populations are low but above target in Lake Superior and are above target but trending in the right direction in Lake Erie.

Why are some lakes above target, I’m sure you just asked? Sometimes, like with any population of fish, the numbers just fluctuate naturally. In other instances, like with Lake Erie, a new population emerges; in that case, we think sea lampreys are coming from outside of Lake Erie (I.e., the St Clair River and Lake St. Clair). We have not found the smoking gun indicating where the sea lamprey are coming from, but we’ll find it. With Lake Superior, the sea lamprey numbers might be high because of the abundance of natural prey in the lake like lake trout. Perhaps the sea lamprey just have a lot to eat there.

But, overall, we have achieved a 90-95 percent reduction from pre-control levels. Before control, we lost about 110 million pounds of fish to sea lamprey each year.Today, the loss is around 10 million pounds. Still a lot of fish lost but an order of magnitude less than before control.

Overall, the control program has been everything our founders in 1954 could have hoped for and it serves as the  foundation for the $7 billion fishery we enjoy today. The management agencies would not even think of stocking fish for rehabilitation purposes or to support the sport fishery without sea lamprey control. The fish would just be wasted on sea lamprey otherwise. Likewise, natural fish not supported by stocking, such as whitefish and yellow perch, would not stand a chance.

The lesson of the invasive sea lamprey is why there is such emphasis on keeping, for example, another invasive, the Asian Carp out of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which empties into Lake Michigan.

And what you define as invasive depends largely on the specific place. Gaden pointed out that while the Great Lakes are trying to support the lake trout population, in Yellowstone, they are an invasive species.

“It’s a funny old world,” says Gaden. “They (sea lampreys) will never settle in and become a valued part of the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. But in the rest of North America or the world, the restoration of the lampreys is very important.

“They really are grotesque looking,” he said, “But it’s bad for an ecosystem to make a judgment based on what something looks like. The fact that they look like an alien is neither here nor there.”

So, now do you agree with Jessica Newbern? Do you think lampreys are cute?

Here’s a “glamour” shot of an adult sea lamprey, when you can’t see its face, it doesn’t look terrible. PHOTO CREDIT THINGLINK.COM

U.S.Rep. Antonio Delgado announces Delaware River Watershed Congressional Caucus

The Delaware River Watershed Congressional Caucus was announced today on a wet field in Callicoon, N.Y., by U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado (NY-19.)

As one of the speakers at today’s press conference, Sullivan County Legislative Chairman Robert Doherty said, referring to Delgado: “Promises made, promises kept.”

This is what Doherty is talking about — a response on Oct. 7, 2019 (on another wet field in the upper Delaware) from Delgado to a question about a Congressional Delaware River caucus:

“If there is a Delaware River caucus in Congress, I’ll join it. If there isn’t, I’ll start one.”

There wasn’t. (Here’s that story.) And so he joined with his Republican co-founder, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1) to start building the caucus to focus federal attention on the Delaware River and its watershed.

U.S. Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican from Pennsylvania, who represents Bucks County, also a riverside county.

Many watersheds receive significant federal dollars, like the Great Lakes, which receives close to $500 million. It was only a couple of years ago that the federal tap was finally turned on with the efforts of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed and its partners the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to create the Delaware River Conservation Fund, aimed at finding federal dollars to partner with local organizations to preserve and improve the watershed, project by project.

Rep. Delgado’s comments:

“The Upper Delaware River is more than beautiful scenery — it’s an economic driver for our communities. In New York’s 19th Congressional District, the river generates more than $400 million in economic value every single year. I am proud to launch the bipartisan Delaware River Watershed Caucus alongside Representative Fitzpatrick. This caucus will bring together members from both sides of the aisle to advocate for our communities and secure federal funding to protect these precious waters. Thank you to Friends of the Upper Delaware River, local elected officials, and conservation organizations for your continued partnership and advocacy.”

Rep. Fitzpatrick’s comments, via email:

“The Delaware River runs along the entire length of my district, which includes tourist destinations such as New Hope, historically significant villages like Washington Crossing, and job hubs like Bristol and Bensalem. Our new Caucus will help advance bipartisan coordination on the marquee conservation programs throughout the Delaware River Watershed. I’m honored to co-chair this bipartisan caucus with Congressman Delgado.”

Jeff Skelding, executive director of the Friends of the Upper Delaware and host of the press conference enunciated the benefits of federal dollars coming into the region: local jobs; support of the tourism industry; strengthening local infrastructure; increased attention to flooding issues; support of the fishing community and more broadly the entire ecosystem of the Delaware River, and for the whole river, finding ways to combat the effects of climate change.

“The Delaware River Watershed Congressional Caucus will be an excellent opportunity to prioritize and leverage funding for the watershed and start thinking creatively about implementing potential infrastructure stimulus dollars and the Civilian Climate Corps. This initiative will help protect and restore the entire watershed from the upper reaches of the headwaters to the Delaware Bay,” said Sandra Meola, director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. 

Jeff Skelding, executive director of the Friends of the Upper Delaware, which hosted the press conference on the shores of the Delaware River In Callicoon, N.Y. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

One of the first priorities for the caucus, Delgado said, will be to investigate the lack of federal funding for the Delaware River Basin Commission, the four-state commission charged with overseeing the Delaware River’s water quality as well as quantity.

Though here Delgado was careful not to promise anything specific too soon: “We don’t have a magic wand.”  But he praised the passion of the people who have been working on the river and promised to marry their local knowledge with the political promise of a basin caucus. 

An overview of the press conference in what will eventually become the Callicoon Riverside Park, a project of the Trust for Public Land, Sullivan County, the Town of Delaware, the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund and New York Department of Environmental Conservation. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE