Fly fishing: Hydro plant proposal worth considering

Hydropower generators are being considered on the great trout rivers of the Catskills. It may, in fa

It sounds alarming at first:

Hydropower generators are being considered on the great trout rivers of the Catskills. It may, in fact, prove to be a bad idea, once all the details are known.

But the farm-country co-op proposing the idea says the hydro plants it wants to install at New York City’s Cannonsville, Pepacton, Neversink and Schoharie reservoirs won’t harm the fish or the fishing downstream.

“We’re going to be receiving any water that DEP [the New York City Department of Environmental Protection] would otherwise discharge from these reservoirs,” said Greg Starheim, the CEO and general manager of the Delaware County Electric Cooperative, a 66-year-old, non-profit group that buys elect­rical power wholesale and distributes it to its 5,100 members in Delaware, Schoharie, Otsego and Chenango counties. “We’re not talking about affecting or trying to influence or increase or decrease the flow of water that will be released.”

The amounts run through the co-op’s turbines would be those that have been agreed upon by the states that share the Delaware — New York, New Jersey, Del­aware and Pennsylvania, plus New York City.

The water’s most crucial characteristic — its cold temperature, which has enabled the best trout fishery in the eastern United States to flourish downstream of the dams — will not be affected by the generators, said Starheim, who described himself as an angler.

The co-op says it’s in “active discussions” with New York City, which is confirmed by spokesmen for the city in newspaper reports. If the city were to agree, the co-op would also need permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and you can bet the idea will be examined closely by such groups as Trout Unlimited, the Friends of the Upper Delaware River and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

But if these hydro plants have as little effect on the rivers as Starheim says, the idea deserves consideration. Anglers should be among the world’s most passionate environmentalists, and should support anything that can help reduce greenhouse gases and acid rain even a little (not to mention soaring fossil fuel costs and dependence on foreign oil.)

“I think we’ve got a very good design here, and we look forward to comments on it,” Starheim said. “On one side, I’m responsible for delivering low-cost electricity to residents of this area, but on the other side, I’m an environmentalist, too, and I think this is a nice balance.”


Two experts on the management of the Delaware pointed out that in this space last week, I failed to mention circumstances that could lead to larger, fish-friendly releases of cold water into the tailwaters.

I had reported that in a typical summer, current regulations call for a release from Cannonsville Reservoir on the West Branch of the Delaware of 260 cubic feet per second.

But Nat Gillespie of Trout Unlimited said the regulations call for bigger releases — 275, 350 or even 1,500 cfs — if the reservoirs are unusually full in the summer.

On the other hand, noted Jim Serio of the Delaware River Foundation, it will probably be necessary to let extra water out of the dams to keep the Delaware flowing at its legal minimum of 1,750 cfs, as measured at Montague, N.J. — especially if there’s less rainfall than normal.

Both men said they will continue to lobby for more generous water releases, even under normal circumstances.

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