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December 16, 2017
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DRBC declares drought in entire basin

Water in the New York City reservoirs has dropped to a "drought watch" level, triggering action from the DRBC.

November 23, 2016

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) at a special meeting today issued a special permit for coordinated operation of regional reservoirs, out-of-basin diversions, and Delaware River flow objectives in response to persistent dry conditions.

“The special permit unanimously approved today provides for enhanced coordination of operations of regional reservoirs, diversions, and flow objectives during the ongoing, extended period of below-normal precipitation,” said DRBC Executive Director Steve Tambini. “Today’s action also makes clear that the entire basin is currently deemed to be in a ‘drought watch’ stage.”

The DRBC’s primary drought management objective, which complements the basin states’ drought response efforts, is to provide for conservation of regional reservoir storage for purposes of water supply and flow augmentation in the Delaware River and salinity control in the Delaware River Estuary.

The special permit issued today under section 10.4 of the compact that created the DRBC in 1961 provides a single set of water resource management responses to address dry conditions both “basinwide” and in the “lower basin,” which is the portion of the basin downstream of Montague, N.J.

Under the special permit, the transition from one possible drought stage to another – from “watch” to “warning” to “drought” and back again to “normal” – will be based on the combined storage in three reservoirs located in the Catskill Mountains at the headwaters of the Delaware River in New York State. Releases from these New York City reservoirs provide about half of the city’s water supply and support a minimum flow target in the Delaware River at Montague established by the U.S. Supreme Court Decree of 1954. Combined storage in the three reservoirs is now approximately 40% of capacity. In accordance with the provisions of the compact, today’s resolution has also been unanimously approved by the parties to the decree, which include Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York State, and New York City.

Out-of-basin diversions to New York City and portions of New Jersey established by the 1954 decree will be reduced depending upon the drought stages defined by the special permit. However, a reserve “bank” of water established by the decree parties over the course of the past year in anticipation of a dry period such as the current one will be available, allowing New Jersey to minimize the effects of possible diversion reductions.