Friends of the Upper Delaware River (FUDR) sponsored its third annual Water Water Everywhere conference on Tuesday, October 9, coupling technical presentations related to increasing water flows to relieve thermal stress on trout with talks on the power of coalition building to actually implement such policy goals.
All about thermal releases
The technical talks presented three developments that could wind up dovetailing nicely to mitigate the thermal emergencies that have repeatedly threatened the trout in the Upper Delaware’s coldwater fishery in recent years. This year, for instance, there were four instances in which high water temperatures prompted urgent requests by the New York DEC and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to the Delaware River Basin decree parties (the State of New York, the City of New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey) to release extra water to cool things down. There was a response to only one of these. One of those thermal stress episodes lasted seven days, without relief.
Representative Fred Henson of the NY DEC and Mark Hartle of the PA Fish and Boat Commission noted that one of the problems in obtaining thermal releases is the fact that the decision can only be made by a vote of the decree parties. Reaching the officials who represent the parties and getting them to vote on the issue, let alone getting a favorable vote, presents serious logistical issues. The response-time problem is worsened by the fact that there is a roughly 12-hour lag in getting the water from Cannonsville to Lordsville on the main stem.
Noting that it is politically unlikely that the decree parties will cede their decision-making power with regard to thermal releases to any automatic protocol, Hartle and Henson suggested as an alternative a decision tree that would help objectify the decree parties’ deliberation process, allowing them to come more rapidly and reliably to a conclusion about what needs to be done. The idea is that the creation of clear criteria under which thermal releases should be authorized ought at least to reduce the hemming and hawing time, while tending to encourage a favorable response to requests.
Peter Kolesar presented a work in progress with regard to quantifying, via rigorous statistical methods, exactly how much water needs to be released to relieve thermal stress defined as water temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and showing that in the past there would have been plenty of water available to do so within the parameters of the Interim Excess Release Quantity available in the current flow regime. When complete, Kolesar’s models could provide, in effect, a mathematically rigorous version of Hartle and Henson’s decision tree, giving specific criteria for when water should be released for thermal stress purposes and how much. It would also provide the decree parties with the comfort of scientific evidence that the amount of water being released has been calculated for maximum efficiency, so that the desired result is achieved with nothing being squandered. Kolesar expects his work to be ready for prime time in one or two months.
Garth Pettinger of Trout Unlimited gave a presentation on the potential impact of the completion of the Croton reservoir system's new filtration system sometime in 2013. That part of the NYC drinking water system has been offline since 2008, and had been experiencing periodic shutdowns even before then. Pettinger argued that the water newly available from Croton, up to 290mgd, ought to be deducted from the amount drawn from the Delaware system, allowing for much higher Delaware reservoir releases year round.
Some in the audience noted that water from Croton would need pumping to get to NYC, making this a costly tradeoff for the city and one that it is unlikely to concede. But I did some research after the conference and found in the final EIS for the plant (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/croton/execsumm.pdf) that an average flow of 144mgd per day from Croton is anticipated. That amount can be driven by gravity; indeed, in the past, the gravity flow from Croton has supplied about 10% of the city’s water needs, and it goes to customers in low-lying areas of the Bronx and Manhattan.
That 144mgd is not sufficient to carry out Pettinger’s proposed program of increased flows years round, but it is probably more than enough to offset any draws required by the precise targeting of the Kolesar approach, which could potentially make it an easier political sell.
The power of we
The day concluded with a couple of presentations about coalitions, one by Anthony Caligiuri and Kim Beidler of the newly formed Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW), and one by Jeff Skelding and Rachael Dawson of America’s Great Waters Coalition. Both presentations pointed out the degree to which the interests of small grass-roots organizations can be leveraged by joining together with other like-minded groups. Such groups can operate on what Skelding called “the NATO principle:” what you do to one of us, you do to all--a principle that can operate both as a shield and a proactive power.
The most stunning statistic with regard to the leverage that can be obtained by coalitions was cited by Caligiuri, who noted of one organization, the Chesapeake Bay Coalition, that the number of individuals represented has grown to 1 million, in an area whose population is 17 million. One in 17 people in that area can stand behind any initiative proposed by that coalition – a very powerful political fact.
In conversation after the meeting, Dan Plummer, chairman of FUDR, which is already a member of both CDRW and the Great Waters Coalition, said he was particularly enthusiastic about the discussion of coalitions. Indeed, the tagline with which Beidler named her presentation, “It’s not just us anymore,” was derived from a remark that Plummer had made shortly after joining the coalition. Expressing his relief at not feeling alone in his efforts, Plummer had said, “It’s not just FUDR anymore.”
In the face of the powerful multinational industrial interests that seem to be engaged in what can only be called a concerted attack on the water resources of the nation including the Delaware, those of us who seek to protect those resources can all too easily feel like ants who have wandered onto a battlefield. Coalitions such as CDRW and the Great Waters Coalition offer the possibility of getting into the fray in a more effective way.