NJ DEP not signing off on Delaware River water management plan
ALBANY, N.Y. — The management plan dictating how the Delaware River's water is divvied up between New York and three states downstream expires Thursday, and New Jersey's environmental commissioner has refused to sign off on it unless it's revised to let his state withdraw more water.
"We just want our fair share of water, it's that simple," Commissioner Bob Martin said Wednesday. "Since 2013 we've signed a one-year extension every year with the expectation that New York City would negotiate in good faith with us."
But this time, New Jersey won't sign, hoping that will force the city to make concessions.
Water use from the Delaware River, which stretches 330 miles from the Catskill Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, is governed by a management plan stemming from a 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decree. The plan must be approved by New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. They've approved it every year for the last five years.
The document directs water releases from three upstate reservoirs in the New York City water supply that serves 9 million people. The city's Department of Environmental Protection updated the plan in 2008 to include measures that protect the downstream trout fishery that supports an estimated $10 million in economic activity, as well as boating and other recreation.
The update and subsequent revisions also allow the reservoirs to be drawn down in the fall to protect downstream communities from spring flooding, and allows New Jersey to withdraw more water during droughts.
But Martin said the plan doesn't allow New Jersey to withdraw enough water to supply its economic development needs. He said New York City will agree to New Jersey's water demands only with the provision that the city will no longer have sole responsibility to ensure salt from the Atlantic won't move up to water intakes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
"We call that the poison pill in the negotiations," Martin said.
Paul Rush, deputy commissioner of New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, said the expiration of the current plan means his agency will have to go back to a 1983 management plan that reduces cold water releases from current levels. That could harm trout and tourism businesses downstream of the city's dams as the river level drops. The old plan also lacks enhanced flood and drought provisions.
"We and others are concerned about throwing away decades of progress," said DEP spokesman Adam Bosch.
"The Delaware River shouldn't be the sacrificial lamb for New Jersey's political position," said Maya van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper environmental group. "It's the critters and downstream communities that will suffer."
Rush said New York City is looking to return to the negotiating table to try to work out an agreement that's acceptable to New Jersey.
Martin said he also hopes negotiations over a revised plan succeed, but he's not ruling out litigation.
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