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The State of New Jersey Draws a Line in the Sand at DRBC RFAC Meeting

Posted on February 24 2017

The Delaware River Basin Commission – Regulated Flow Advisory Committee (RFAC) met in Trenton last week and there was a surprising turn of events with regard to the 2017 water management plan (Flexible Flow Management Plan or “FFMP”) for the NYC Delaware River basin reservoirs.

For the past five years the Decree Parties (NY, NJ, DE, PA, and NYC) have failed to reach a required unanimous agreement on a long term improved FFMP. The result has been five consecutive 1-year extensions of an unchanged plan.

Last week, the Decree Parties came prepared with an agreed upon statement that was read out loud during the FFMP Update portion of the meeting. It essentially said that they are negotiating on a new long term FFMP agreement and are taking into consideration the requests of the Upper Delaware River conservation community.  Business as Usual.  (See attached Decree Party statement)

After the Decree Party letter was recited, the meeting went from routine to dramatic. The state of New Jersey took everybody by surprise by reading a prepared statement (approved at the highest levels of NJ government) expressing deep frustration at the lack of response from the other Decree Parties to the requests they have repeatedly made for policy inclusions in a revised FFMP.

In the final sentence of their prepared statement, New Jersey states:

“At this time NJ is not able to commit to a one-year extension of the current FFMP, as other options are being more seriously considered if reform is not achievable.” (See attached New Jersey statement)

Immediately after New Jersey read their statement, the state of Delaware issued a harsh retort stating that “nobody around this table” had any idea that NJ was going to read their statement at the meeting. It’s not unreasonable to infer that Delaware was also expressing the sentiments of NY, PA, and NYS.

If the five Decree Parties are unable to reach unanimous agreement on a new plan (or another 1 year extension of an unchanged plan) by May 31, 2017 the water management plan automatically reverts back to a 1980’s reservoir management approach called “Revision 1”.

Revision 1 would be a devastating step backwards for the cold water ecosystem of the Upper Delaware River. Water releases from the NYC Delaware reservoirs under Revision 1 would be significantly lower than current FFMP release levels at all times of the year.

The negotiations surrounding the FFMP have always been shrouded in secrecy so it’s difficult to develop a fully informed analysis of what happened last week in Trenton.

Here’s our best take:

  • By taking this dramatic step, New Jersey has elected a strategy that draws a line in the sand by threatening a reversion to Revision 1 unless their demands are met. New Jersey believes that Revision 1 does not undermine their State’s allocable water resource needs in any way.
  • Based on the significant reduction in NYC’s overall annual water consumption over the last 30-years, the seven requests made by the State of New Jersey, on the face of it, appear to be reasonable. Some of them would likely result in improvements for the Upper Delaware River cold water ecosystem, the fishery, and the economic conditions for local communities.
  • While Revision 1 is completely unacceptable as an outcome come May 31, it may take this type of action (the NJ statement) to create a breakthrough for a negotiation process that is thoroughly dysfunctional and at a complete standstill.
  • The other Decree Parties must now decide how (or if) they will respond to the New Jersey demands. Will they ignore them? Will they attempt a compromise? They must also decide how Revision 1 will impact their own water resource needs in the Delaware basin.

We will be keeping a close eye on further developments as we move closer to the May 31 decision deadline.

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