October 23, 2017




Long-term Delaware River flow management agreement reached

Upper Delaware at Big Eddy near Narrowsburg (photo: David Soete, Upper Delaware Council)

NEW YORK – Delaware River decree parties have committed to a long-term agreement for a river flow management program.

“The 10-year program protects public health for millions of Americans by sustaining their supplies of high-quality drinking water,” said New York City Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner Paul Rush. “The agreement also expands efforts to enhance flood attenuation and support the outdoor recreation economy of the upper Delaware River through the protection of its natural ecology and wild trout fishery.”

Rush said the decree parties have agreed to “pursue a number of scientific studies related to salinity intrusion in the lower Delaware River, the calculation of water available to be released downstream of New York City’s reservoirs, and other topics related to the natural resources of the basin."

In the 1920's, the States of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were interested in the development of water supplies in the Delaware River Basin, as a source for meeting their individual needs. Between 1924 and 1927, these states made two attempts to forge an agreement for coordinated development of water supplies. Both attempts, however, were unsuccessful. Faced with little prospect of multilateral agreement, and confronted with water shortages and growth pressures, New York City, which lies outside the Delaware River Basin, in 1928, moved to develop new sources of water supply from within the Basin. This action resulted in a serious interstate conflict and, in 1930, the State of New Jersey brought an action in the U.S. Supreme Court to enjoin the City and State of New York from using the waters of any tributary to the Delaware River. On May 25, 1931, the Court granted New York City the right to withdraw 440 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) of water from two reservoirs the City planned to build on headwater tributaries feeding the main stem of the Delaware River. The impoundments - Neversink on the Neversink River and Pepacton on the East Branch of the Delaware River - became fully operational in late summer of 1955.

The original Supreme Court action, in the form of a decree, stood for 23 years. In 1952, however, New York City filed a petition with the Court, seeking to increase its diversion of Delaware River Basin water for water-supply purposes. As a result, the decree parties--the States of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, along with New York City--returned to the Court, in a dispute over the City's right to divert additional water out of the Basin. An amended decree was consented to by all parties and adopted on June 7, 1954. This decree permitted New York City to increase its withdrawal rate to 800 Mgal/d, contingent upon the City's construction of a third in-basin water reservoir--the Cannonsville impoundment on the West Branch of the Delaware River--which was completed in 1967. In return, under the amended decree, New York City was required to release from its three upper basin reservoirs into the Delaware River a sufficient quantity of water to meet a flow objective of 1,750 cubic feet per second at Montague, N.J., in order to ensure adequate streamflows downriver. The decree also permitted an out-of-basin diversion of 100 Mgal/d to central and northeastern New Jersey through the Delaware and Raritan Canal. A River Master employed by the U.S. Geological Survey was appointed by the Court to administer specific provisions of the amended decree.



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