New Jersey Inks 10-Year Pact on Taking Water from Delaware River

Tom Johnson | October 27, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Agreement — also signed by three other states and New York City — ends dispute over release of water from city reservoirs

delaware river basin
New Jersey, three other states, and New York City have approved a new 10-year agreement on how water from the Delaware River is allocated, ending a dispute over release of waters from the city’s upstate reservoirs.

The agreement, unanimously approved by the parties, aims to juggle water-supply demands, protect fisheries, and prevent saltwater from intruding into drinking-water supplies.

The new plan will govern water use from the river, which provides drinking water to 15 million people in four states. Since 1954, a U.S. Supreme Court decree and subsequent agreements detailed a management plan for the river among New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York City.

More water for NJ

The most recent agreement expired in May, largely due to differences between New Jersey and New York City over the former’s bid to withdraw more water from the system. In the past, New Jersey could withdraw up to 65 million gallons daily. The new agreement raises the amount to 80 million gallons.

“We are pleased to have reached a long-term resolution to provide additional water resources to New Jersey,’’ the state Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement. “This multi-year agreement will help provide more sustainable and resilient water supplies, increased ecological protections for the basin, as well as the water resources needed for New Jersey’s future growth.’’

The agreement was reached after New York City decided to sharply reduce the amount of water it released into the upper Delaware this fall, a decision that lowered river flows downstream.

The new agreement helps to balance the water supply needs of the four states and New York City, said Steve Tambini, executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, an interstate agency overseeing the water resources within the basin.

“At the same time, the agreement continues to evolve to better protect aquatic life, enhance flood mitigation and recreation, manage droughts, and repel the upstream migration of salty water into the Delaware Estuary during periods of low river flow.’’

The agreement spells out releases of water from three city reservoirs in New York state, located at the headwaters of the Delaware River, and out-of-basin diversions, a provision that drew criticism from some conservationists.

‘A tremendous concern’

“It restores New Jersey’s ability to take more water out of the system and transport it out of the basin. That’s a tremendous concern to us,’’ said Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, agreed, saying the additional withdrawals could spur more development in the region. Yet despite that and other concerns, his organization is pleased the agreement has been renewed.

“It could have sparked a free-for-all where every state was trying to grab everything they can,’’ he said.

The agreement also allows the city to leave a storage void of up to 15 percent in its upstate reservoirs to help mitigate flooding. Environmentalists criticized the provision, arguing that several studies have shown no link between reservoirs and flooding downstream. They worry the storage void could come back and haunt the states in droughts.