Long-Term Agreement in Place for NYC Delaware River Reservoirs

by Jeff Skelding

“FFMP2017” -  No Longer Just a Water Supply Plan

On October 20, 2017, after 5 years of stalemate, a new long-term management plan for the NYC Upper Delaware River reservoirs was adopted by the 1954 Supreme Court Decree Parties (NY, PA, NJ, DE, and NYC).

For decades, the management of the NYC Delaware River reservoirs was driven by a relatively narrow set of water resource considerations primarily focused on water supply. The Decree Parties spent most of their time divvying up Delaware River water to satisfy parochial and sometimes competing needs. However, as the years went by, the complexity of water resource management challenges began to increase. Over time, the mounting impacts of point and non-point pollution, climate change, drought, flooding, and unplanned development began to inexorably draw the Decree Parties into the broader world of watershed protection.

  FFMP2017 plays a critical role in ensuring that the northward migration of the salt front from the Delaware Bay does not reach the drinking water intakes for the Philadelphia water supply. Photo credit: Mario Cuitino

FFMP2017 plays a critical role in ensuring that the northward migration of the salt front from the Delaware Bay does not reach the drinking water intakes for the Philadelphia water supply. Photo credit: Mario Cuitino

Consider what the plan addresses:

  • Ensuring a safe, clean water supply for millions of people both inside and outside the basin
  • Protecting habitat and aquatic life from the Catskill reservoirs to the Delaware Bay
  • Maintaining minimum flow requirements for multiple basin wide benefits
  • Protecting water quality and quantity from the impacts of climate change
  • Addressing flood mitigation and prevention in the Upper Delaware region
  • Protecting endangered species like Dwarf Wedge Mussels and Atlantic Sturgeon

While FFMP2017 is not the entire answer to the complex challenge of operationalizing a comprehensive, basin-wide protection and restoration plan for the Delaware River watershed, it has now emerged as one critically important tool.

And the timing for the new long-term plan couldn’t be better as the William Penn Foundation’s Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI) continues to move forward with positive results and the fledgling U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) gets set to launch. As the implementation of FFMP2017 begins to unfold, every effort should be made to integrate and synthesize the new plan with these and other efforts to protect and restore the Delaware watershed.

FFMP2017 plays a critical role in ensuring that the northward migration of the salt front from the Delaware Bay does not reach the drinking water intakes for the Philadelphia water supply

As one of the Decree Party representatives accurately noted at FUDR’s annual fall conference, “FFMP2017 isn’t the end, it’s the beginning.” Amen to that. There are still enormous implementation challenges with the new plan and many identified issue areas that need to be more thoroughly analyzed. Hopefully, the parties have laid to rest the obstacles that impeded their progress in recent years and will work collaboratively with each other and with the entire watershed in mind. With a long-term agreement in place, they also have an exciting new opportunity to shed the secrecy that has stymied the ability of the public to meaningfully engage in how the plan impacts the river and millions of people who live in the watershed.

Jeff Skelding is Executive Director of Friends of the Upper Delaware River, which serves as the New York State Lead for the Coalition of the Delaware River Watershed, and is a member of the Coalition's Steering Committee.