It seems to be the same old story this year. Trout fishers are upset with the high temperatures in the Main Stem of the Delaware. The wild card in the deck this year was the discovery of a sinkhole in the dam of Swinging Bridge reservoir. It became necessary to lower the water level behind the dam both for the sake of safety and to facilitate repairs to the dam.
In a normal very dry spring such as we had this year, the river master would have been calling for additional releases from the upstream reservoirs on a daily basis due to the requirement that the river gauge at Montague, New Jersey receive 1750 cubic feet per second passing by it. However, the steady draw-down of the lake behind the damaged dam along with some release from Lake Wallenpaupack was more than enough to satisfy the required flow at the Montague gage.
In an effort to prevent the river temperature at the Hankins gage from rising above 72 degrees, the New York State Department of Conservation directed that copious amounts of water be released from the thermal stress bank. This effort to keep the Main Stem cool enough to survive had to be abandoned because nearly half the thermal bank had been used by mid June. The DEC then concentrated on keeping the East and West Branches of the Delaware and the Neversink cool enough for trout to survive.
I have volunteered to do the reading of a flow gage for the United States Geological Surveys Wellsboro Laboratory. This gauge is located in the Main Stem directly across from the rock cut on Route 97. Through the first three weeks of July, the gage registered mostly in the 50s, which is quite low. Towards the end of July the readings jumped into the 60s. For the last ten days it has never dropped below 74. On Saturday August 7 and Sunday August 8 it registered 87. Out of curiosity, l walked down to the river at our property to see what the river temperature would be at these flows. Right at the shoreline it was quite cool, registering only 66 degrees at 1:00 p.m. It would appear that the river master has at last had to call for reservoir releases to satisfy the gauge at Montague.
Some more good news is that New York City has agreed to expand the thermal bank. However, it is my understanding that the downstream states would have to approve of this expansion. A proposal by the Friends of the Upper Delaware to increase flows to almost 500cfs was promptly rejected by the Delaware River Basin Commission members. We will have to keep our fingers crossed that Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware will approve this expansion of the thermal bank.
As of July 28 storage in the upstream reservoirs was 53.4 billion gallons above the point referred to as Drought Watch. On that same date, the reservoirs were 69.4 billion gallons above the Drought Warning line. This is some six percent less than the median storage for this date.
It should be noted that the Upper Delaware Council has written to Denise Sheehan, the acting NYSDEC Commissioner, noting that this year, for the first time ever, the DEC has prohibited fishing at a well-known thermal refuge on the famed Beaverkill. The UDC asked, If such a special regulation works well on the Beaverkill, could it not work on the equally renowned Upper Delaware River?
At a recent Trout Unlimited meeting of the Beamoc Chapter, which Barb and I attended, two conservation officers reported they were experiencing no difficulty enforcing this special regulation. Only a handful of violators have been discovered ignoring the posted signs stating that the Beaverkill is closed to fishing during July and August from the Iron Bridge at Horton downstream to the first Route 17 overpass. The Upper Delaware Council respectfully requested that the NYSDEC and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission work together to establish a special regulation to protect thermal refuges on the Main Stem between Hancock and Callicoon. Its about time this was done.
The above appeared as "The Complete Tangler" column for the August 11 issue of The River Reporter.