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New York's Role in the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC)

1954 Supreme Court Decree

Map of Delaware River Basin
Delaware River Basin Map

New York City Delaware River Basin releases from the Cannonsville, Neversink and Pepacton reservoirs are governed by a 1954 United States Supreme Court Decree (see Links Leaving DEC's Website). New York State was a participant in the lawsuit that led to the Decree, along with New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware (Decree Parties). The Supreme Court designated a Special Master to study and resolve the lawsuit in an equitable manner.

The resulting Decree was a continuation of and replacement to an earlier 1931 Decree that originated when the Neversink and Pepacton reservoirs were constructed. The 1954 Decree defined the rights and obligations of each Decree Party with respect to water use in the Delaware River Basin. The most important components of the Decree are:

1) New York City is authorized to divert 800 million gallons per day (MGD) out of the basin, but must make compensating releases so that the flow of the river at Montague, New Jersey, is not less than 1,750 cubic feet per second.

2) New Jersey is authorized to divert 100 MGD out of the basin, without any requirement for compensating releases.

3) A portion of water stored in the reservoirs is annually allotted to downstream uses as the Excess Release Quantity (ERQ).

Any alteration of the operating policies or procedures of the Decree requires unanimous approval of the Decree Parties. When the Decree Parties meet to discuss potential modifications of the terms of the Decree, these meetings are legal settlement negotiations and, therefore, are as a rule not open to the public.

The 1954 Decree also established the Office of the Delaware River Master within the United States Geological Survey (USGS) that monitors Decree Party actions so that provisions of the Decree are observed. The Chief Hydraulic Engineer of the USGS appoints a River Master to coordinate the day-to-day operation of the Decree.

Following an unprecedented multi-year drought in the early 1960s, the Decree Parties adopted modifications to the water management conditions of the Decree in 1983 to improve drought operations. In addition, to continually adapt and improve water resource uses in the Delaware River basin, modifications have since been adopted to improve habitat and recreational releases. The most recent modification is called the Flexible Flow Management Program. It also acts to increase the likelihood of available reservoir capacity (void space) to help mitigate flooding impacts immediately below the Cannonsville, Neversink and Pepacton reservoirs.

Flexible Flow Management Program

A Flexible Flow Management Program (FFMP) was implemented by the Decree Parties on October 1, 2007, and was in effect through May 31, 2011. It was the result of over three years of negotiations and included input from community groups and interested individuals, primarily through the DRBC Regulated Flow Advisory Committee and its Subcommittee on Ecological Flows. The FFMP generally uses higher base releases to promote wildlife habitat rather than rely on fixed storage banks for temporary relief from adverse conditions (see Links Leaving DEC's Website in right hand margin).

Three one-year renewals of the FFMP were agreed to in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Incremental improvements were made in these renewal agreements including enhanced snowpack evaluation and management, higher level release tables with elevated reservoir releases for habitat protection, and the inclusion of a cutting edge hydrological model (the Operational Support Tool).

The Flexible Flow Management Program (FFMP) was not renewed by May 31st, 2017 due to the failure of the Decree Parties to reach unanimous agreement. Therefore, on June 1st, 2017, minimum releases from the New York City Delaware River reservoirs reverted to the 1983 plan known as Revision 1 (DRBC Docket D-77-20 (Revised)). Revision 1 has significantly lower required minimum releases than the FFMP.

New York City has announced they will voluntarily make releases (PDF, 2.1 MB) from Cannonsville, Pepacton, and Neversink Reservoirs at rates above the minimum required rates in order to promote the aquatic habitat of the tailwaters and promote reservoir voids. The States of New York and Delaware and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have signed a letter signifying their support (PDF, 475 KB) of these voluntary releases.

Delaware River Basin Commission

New York State, in consultation with New York City, also participates with New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the Federal government in the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). The members of the DRBC are the four basin state governors and a federal representative appointed by the President of the United States of America. In recent years, the President has designated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to serve as the federal representative. The basin state governors generally appoint alternate commissioners to represent the state. All commissioners have equal voting power and a majority is required for most decisions. The DRBC is an interstate, federal watershed management agency and conducts regularly scheduled public meetings. Public participation is encouraged through its various committees and hearings. Water supply availability, water quality, ecosystem sustainability, and flooding risk and damage are among the major factors considered by the DRBC and Decree Parties during all negotiations regarding reservoirs release programs (see Links Leaving DEC's Website in right hand margin).