By Morgan Lyle
Ever since the construction of reservoirs on the branches of the Delaware River created world-class trout streams in the mid-20th century, anglers have demanded that more cold water be released from the dams to make the fishing even better.
Now, the conservation agencies of New York and Pennsylvania have issued an extraordinary report stating the potential benefits of letting more water out of the reservoirs and into the rivers below.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission say in the report, released Jan. 12, that the current system “does not provide adequate year-round flows for habitat protection” and often results in water that’s too warm for trout on the main stem of the Delaware, below the confluence of its two branches.
Here’s how much water is released from Cannonsville Reservoir on the West Branch of the Delaware under the current rules, with reservoirs at normal levels: December through April, 80 cubic feet per second (a very small amount that leaves much of the riverbed exposed); May 1-20, 190 cfs; May 21-31, 240 cfs; June 1 through Sept. 15, 260 cfs; Sept. 16-30, 115 cfs; and for October and November, back down to 80.
Here’s what the two environmental agencies say would be best for the Delaware’s trout: December through March, 150 cfs; April and May, 400 cfs; June 1-15, 500 cfs; June 16 through Aug. 31, 525 cfs; Sept. 1-15, 400 cfs; Sept. 16-30, 300 cfs, and October and November, 150 cfs.
As a result of these releases, the amount of winter spawning and incubation habitat would increase by 33 percent – a huge benefit, since the Delaware’s ability to support wild, stream-born trout with no need for stocking is its primary appeal. There would be 26 percent more cool water for grown-up trout to live in during the summer.
There would be benefits for the East Branch of the Delaware and the Neversink River, too. Spawning and incubation habitat would expand on the East Branch by 39 percent and on the Neversink by a whopping 63 percent.
Water temperatures would never climb above 75 degrees on the branches, and the main stem would hit 75 only about half as often as it does now.
Of course, the most important effect of the releases advocated by the DEC is the impact on New York City’s water supply – because the city can veto any change in the rules, and would do so in a New York minute if it perceived a threat to its stored water. The proposed trout-friendly new flows would result in water levels in the reservoirs dropping to what’s considered drought levels 28 percent more often.
The city is intensely protective of its water supply and may declare the risk unacceptable. But official recognition by two states of the potential benefits of larger releases may make it harder for the city to justify what some critics have described as hoarding.
This is tantalizing stuff for Delaware trout advocates – a report signed by the director of the DEC’s Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, Patricia Reixinger, that says by returning a little more of the 242 billion gallons of impounded water to the rivers, “a robust coldwater fishery commensurate with the potential of the upper Delaware River system will be more fully realized.”
Let’s keep a good thought.
First published in The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. 2/25/10