Fly fishing: Increased flow rates sought in Catskills

Groups are pressuring the Delaware River Basin Commission for increased flow rates this summer

Delaware River fishing advocates are making a last-ditch effort to get more water released from reservoirs in the Delaware watershed when new rules are put in place this spring.

In a sign that the request will at least be considered, the Delaware River Basin Commission has extended the public comment period on the new rules, which was to have expired Friday. We now have until March 3 to demand more cold water for the trout habitat downstream.

The call for more generous flows has even brought about something of a truce between two factions that had been battling over the water release plans — Friends of the Upper Delaware River and Trout Unlimited.

In September, the Delaware River Basin Commission — comprised of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware — agreed on a sensible new way of deciding how much water is let out of three of New York City’s Catskill Mountains reservoirs into the trout-rich rivers below.

Before, the rules required the East and West branches of the Delaware, its main stem and the Neversink River next door be kept below certain temperatures in order to protect the rivers’ famed wild trout. The Department of Environmental Conser­vation was allotted “banks” of cold water within the reservoirs that could be released to meet the temperature targets.

It was a complicated arrangement, and no one was happy with how it worked.

The new system, called the Flexible Flow Management Program or FFMP (you could almost write one of these articles without using any lower-case letters at all), works on a much simpler principle: the more

water that’s in the reservoirs, the more that is let out.

Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the Delaware River Foundation and Theodore Gordon Flyfishers talked the four states and New York City into agreeing to the FFMP. But now, Trout Unlimited says the amounts of water to be released when the reservoirs are at a given stage should be revised upward, because history has shown there’s enough water for both the rivers and the “nine million thirsty voters” of New York City.

The DRBC has agreed in principle to minimum releases from Cannonsville Reservoir on the West Branch of 180 cubic feet per second in May and 250 cfs in June, July and August under normal conditions. Trout Unlimited and its allies have asked for 250 cfs in May and 350 the rest of the summer.

Actual releases would sometimes be higher to keep the main Delaware flowing at its legally required minimum, as measured in New Jersey. The minimum releases would be reduced in times of drought.

Even the cantankerous Friends of the Upper Delaware River, led by well-known Delaware lodge and guide service owner Al Caucci, issued a statement saying it “applauds” TU for demanding more water. More significantly, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has formally called for more water, too.

It behooves all of us who care about the Delaware’s wild trout to contact the Delaware River Basin Commission and ask for more generous flows. Comments may be directed to Commission Secretary, DRBC, P.O. Box 7360, 25 State Police Drive, West Trenton, N.J. 08628-0360, or they may be faxed to “Attn: Commission Secretary” at (609) 883-9522, or they may be e-mailed to [email protected]

We may be on the verge of a more enlightened era of management of the reservoirs on the Delaware, and superb fishing could be the result. The more letters the DRBC gets in support of generous water releases, the easier it becomes for the commission to do the right thing when it votes this spring.

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