Educating the Delaware River Basin
By JIM SERIO
It is a complicated river valley.
Throw a few thousand square miles of land, a few hundred miles of river, a few million people into the pot, stir it up and pour it out. You get the Delaware River Basin where we all live, work and play. Competing interests are as far ranging and different as supplying water to Philadelphia and New York City to providing habitat for the tiny, federally endangered dwarf wedge mussel.
I fished the Delaware in the 1980s, moved here in the 1990s and became completely immersed in the politics of the basin shortly after moving here. Watching the rivers nearly run dry from lack of releases from New York City reservoirs prompted yet another group to organize to fight for better releases from the reservoirs.
The system was seriously flawed. Releases are made from New York City reservoirs to meet an arbitrary target flow at Montague, NJ. This meant, in dry years, the reservoirs were forced to release huge quantities of water to meet the Montague Target. In wet years, the target was met from rain and natural flow. This is exactly the opposite of what a sane person would do. The system still currently operates by making excessive releases in a drought and very small releases in a wet year, making droughts worse in dry years and creating the potential for flooding in wet years. It is time for a change.
In 2001, I was asked to sit on the Watershed Advisory Council, which, after three years of work, created an updated water plan for the Delaware River Basin. The updated basin plan provides a framework for responsible river management.
At one of our meetings, a colleague stood up and spoke eloquently about the need to include education in the basin plan. Her concern was that there was very little written into the plan on how to accomplish the education of the Delaware River Basin, and no suggestion of how to pay for it. At the time I thought, good idea, but not that important. Now, I can only sit in awe over the foresight my colleague possessed.
Six years later, after explaining, for the millionth time, what a cfs is (a measure of flow in cubic feet per second, in case you were wondering), I realize that the issues that face the residents of the Delaware basin are all about education. Educating everyone who lives, works and plays in the basin is the most important issue we face today. The time is now to learn about water flow plans, flood mitigation, water conservation and ecological needs of the Delaware. We are at a crossroads. Do nothing and we will continue on a path that makes no sense. We do not want to continue the practice of releasing more water during a drought and less when the reservoirs are full.
Learn about this river we love. Voice your opinion to neighbors, legislators and friends. It is imperative to adopt a river plan that is truly adaptive and can be flexible as conditions change in the basin.
Please take some time today, visit the Conservation Coalitions website at www.drarp.org to learn all about the Flexible Flow Management Plan (FFMP) and the Coalitions suggestions. FFMP is a plan that just makes sense. This flexible plan is based on the simple premise that When there is more water, release more water and when there is less water, release less. FFMP takes an extraordinary step towards more natural river flows, as well as providing a mechanism for flood mitigation.
We are all responsible for this river. We tend to take it for granted. Make time and learn about the Delaware River, this amazing place to live, work and play.
(Jim Serio is a real estate broker and fly fishing guide living near Hancock, NY. A member of the Delaware River Foundation and Conservation Coalition, he has worked for many years to protect and improve the ecology of the Delaware River.)