Drought watch issued for entire Delaware River Basin
The lack of rain in the east continues to worry officials and on Wednesday resulted in a drought watch being declared for the entire Delaware River Basin — which includes Berks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties.
Already the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has declared drought watches in 26 eastern Pennsylvania counties with six more, Berks, Chester and four more in the Lehigh Valley being placed on the more severe “drought warning.”
And on Wednesday morning, the Delaware River Basin Commission held a special meeting and took action allowing them to move quickly to manage water flows and releases throughout Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
The DRBC is a federal/interstate government agency responsible for managing water resources within the 13,539 square-mile Delaware River Basin.
“Today’s action makes clear that the entire basin is currently deemed to be in a ‘drought watch stage,’” said Steve Tambini, executive director of the DRBC.
According to the Nov. 16 drought report by the DEP, “another week of below normal precipitation in the mid-state to eastern portions of the state has exacerbated the already low stream flows, groundwater levels and declining soil moisture conditions.”
Projected rainfall for the next few weeks “unfortunately will not provide significant relief where it is needed most,” according to DEP.
In the eastern part of Pennsylvania, rainfall is 75 percent below normal in the last 90 days. In Bucks County, for instance, rainfall is more than 6 inches less than is normal for this time of year, according to the DEP report.
“Groundwater levels continue their decline in the Delaware River Basin counties,” the report read.
Chester and Montgomery county groundwater levels are at the “drought watch” level; Delaware County groundwater flows are at the more severe “drought warning” level and Berks County is one of nine counties at the “emergency” level.
Berks County’s streamflow levels are also at the “emergency” level and flows in Delaware and Chester counties are down as well, according to DEP.
And in all four local counties, Berks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery, soil moisture indicators are at the “watch” level.
In a Nov. 8 letter to water suppliers, DEP recommended 5 percent reductions in water use through voluntary conservation measures in counties at the “watch” status, which includes all four local counties.
One Berks County water supplier, North Heidelberg, already has implemented
water use restrictions.
In terms of reservoir storage, a drought warning is triggered when water levels in two key reservoirs — Blue Marsh Reservoir in Berks County and Beltzville in Carbon County — fall below set levels, according to the DRBC.
At Blue Marsh, that drought level is 283 feet. According to the Army Corps of Engineers website, Blue Marsh’s level was just below 285 feet on Wednesday.
At Beltzville, water levels on Wednesday were already below the drought level of 615 feet according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The major reservoirs near the Delaware River’s headwaters in upstate New York are at a combined capacity of about 40 percent.
Those reservoirs are the major water supply for New York City and, by their withdrawal, remove water from the Delaware River Watershed.
At DRBC’s special meeting Wednesday, the agency issued “a special permit for coordinated operation of regional reservoirs.”
It will allow the agency to act quickly to help keep the “salt line” — the area where brackish salt water in Delaware Bay meets fresh water in the river — downstream of drinking water and industrial water intakes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
That line is currently 19 miles further upstream than it normally is at this time of year, despite freshwater reservoir releases designed to push it back downstream, according to DRBC.
The water in the Green Lane Reservoir is very low and some areas along Route 663 (Layfield Road) in Upper Hanover are all dried up, leaving a large area for Canadian Geese to walk instead of swim. The area in the upper part of the reservoir is dry for several hundred yards until water appears again, in a deeper area east of the roadway.
The water in the Green Lane Reservoir is very low and some area’s along Rt. 663 (Layfield Rd.) in Upper Hanover are all dried up leaving a large area for Canadian Geese to walk instead of swim. The area in the upper park of the reservoir is dry for several hundred yards until water appears again in deeper area east of the roadway.