The Susquehanna River Basin Commission Tuesday announced that due to persistent dry conditions in the New York portion of the Susquehanna Basin, local river flows declined — for the first time since the signing of the agreement — to levels that prompted releases of water from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Whitney Point Lake project in Broome County, N.Y.
In accordance with a cooperative agreement to provide drought relief, “environmental releases” occurred for several days in September and October.
The agreement under which these environmental releases were made was the result of analyses, design and construction completed in 2007 between the Corps and Susquehanna River Basin Commission and partners New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“As the non-federal partner in the project, the Commission worked closely with the Corps to develop a plan for environmental releases during periods of extended low flows,” said SRBC Executive Director Andrew Dehoff, P.E. “The releases are designed to reduce stress on the downstream aquatic ecosystem in a way that minimizes impacts to recreation and habitat in the lake.”
“We've been working closely with the Commission for nearly a decade to take a comprehensive look at how we are managing water resources in the vast Susquehanna River Basin,” said Col. Ed Chamberlayne, Corps Baltimore District commander. “We previously conducted a study that shows we can provide benefits to the in-stream environment downstream of Whitney Point during low-flow or drought conditions by modifying the amount of water we are releasing from the reservoir, as well as the timing of these releases. We will continue working closely with the Commission to examine how these strategies can help sustain the aquatic habitat.”
NYSDEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “New York has worked closely with the Commission and the Corps to effectively manage releases from Whitney Point Lake to manage varying environmental conditions. The environmental releases are an appropriate step to protect the downstream river habitat.”
The Corps operates Whitney Point Lake to manage flood risk. It is also used for recreation and upland wildlife management. A plan for low-flow augmentation releases was incorporated into Whitney Point’s reservoir regulation plan in 2009.
Since July, the Commission has been monitoring flows at the U.S. Geological Survey gauge at Waverly, N.Y.
With the drought conditions affecting New York since early August, the flow of water passing by the gauge has steadily decreased until the water flows first fell below 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) for three consecutive days.
That flow condition triggered initiation of the releases and supplemental water was released for six days.
The Commission is also concurrently researching the effects of the environmental release on the aquatic habitat downstream from the lake.
Since 2009, the Commission has led efforts to annually document chemical and biological conditions at numerous stream locations throughout the area. Since late September, Commission staff have been documenting the critical low flow conditions and monitoring the effects of the release.
DEP declared Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe and Northampton counties in drought warning status on November 2.
For more information, visit the SRBC Drought Coordination Center webpage.
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