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April 25, 2014

Study: Increased dam releases would help economy

By Joe Mahoney Staff writer
The Daily Star

---- — Economic activity throughout a region known as a fishermen’s paradise — the west and east branches of the Delaware River — could be greatly expanded if the New York City agency that controls the watershed system increased releases from the Pepacton and Cannonsville reservoirs, according to a new study.

That booster would be no small drop in the bucket, said the study, and would also have a positive impact on real estate values.

The research was financed with help from the Delaware County Industrial Development Agency and the Upper Delaware Council, and was conducted with the assistance of Shepstone Management Co.

The study concluded that the value of the cold water fishery as both a boating and fishing resource could be enhanced by $274 million “with more consistent cold water releases” from the two dams controlled by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. A total of $71 million out of that projected increase would be realized through increases in second home real estate values, while the other $203 million would come from expanded economic activity in the region.

The reservoirs are part of the watershed network that supplies an estimated 1.2 billion gallons of drinking water daily to some 9 million people. The watershed is the largest unfiltered water supply source in the nation.

Jeff Skelding, executive director of Friends of the Upper Delaware River, said more frequent releases of water from the two dams could significantly extend the fishing season along the west and east branches of the Delaware River, a sporting activity that generates significant revenue for businesses and towns throughout the region.

Skelding said the water release practices of DEC have been the focus of “ongoing discussions for years,” and while there has been some progress, “there could be more water released at the right times.”

The study, Skelding said, should help to propel the discussion because it provides for the first time a quantification of just how valuable fishing and recreation are to local economies and to the area’s real estate market.

A DEP official said the agency has been responsible to local officials concerned about the water releases but needs to also also be mindful of the impacts on those who rely on the watershed for their water supply.

“DEP recognizes that fishing, boating and camping along the Delaware River is a major economic driver for the region,” said Adam Bosch, the spokeswoman. “Baseline releases from the city’s reservoirs have increased by four to nearly 10 times as much as they were two decades ago, helping to create and maintain the cold water fishery.”

Bosch added: “We have made these changes with input from stakeholders throughout the basin, and we are always looking to improve release protocols in ways that do not affect the reliability of the water supply for roughly 9.4 million New Yorkers.”

Every dollar spent in the region’s fishing haven is accompanied by another 61 cents spent en route to the location, according to the study. With $186 million now being spent on boating and fishing related activities outside the immediately impacted area, an additional $124 million would flow into the economy if the water releases were made more consistent.

Skelding explained the trout that thrive in the river prefer the cold water that comes from the dams. When dam water is not being released, the water in the river branches begins to warm up as it moves downstream, diminishing fishing opportunities in summer months. He said there is potential to extend a fishing season that now lasts two to three months to six months if there is greater cooperation from DEP.

“They choose to release almost all of the water from Cannonsville,” Skelding said. “They are very stingy with Pepacton.”

Delaware County Tourism Director James Thomson highlighted the significance of the new data by saying, “To me this study validates my feelings and I am more convinced than ever that we need to work with New York City DEP to find ways to protect what we have now and to indeed maximize the tourism potential of the Delaware River.”

Delaware County Economic Development Director, Glenn Nealis, observed that ensuring proper flows for boating and fishing each weekend may not be practical. But he added: “With the city’s cooperation, we could generate some significant economic benefits to the region, potentially exceeding a quarter of a billion dollars.”