Is the Delaware River Watershed at a tipping point?

Tom Johnson reports
for NJ Spotlight:
“You hear about the Hudson, you hear about the Chesapeake, the (Delaware) river is doing okay. It doesn’t have some of the problems of the others,’’ said Carol Collier, a former executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, “but it can be at a tipping point if we don’t get people’s attention.’’
Last week, the Delaware River Basin Commission, an interstate agency that oversees water management of the 330-mile river and basin, got some people’s attention when it announced it would begin drafting rules to address natural gas development in the watershed. It sparked a new round in the debate over drilling, also known as fracking.
With plentiful supplies of the fuel in Marcellus Shale formations in Pennsylvania and other states, the agency said it would consider imposing a ban on drilling within the basin. But the DRBC also will look at imposing new regulations for allowing the transfer of water for drilling outside the basin — and how wastewater from those drilling operations is handled in the watershed.

Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society and
Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper
Both environmentalists, who long have lobbied for such a ban, and industry officials panned the announcement. At a seminar on the watershed, sponsored by NJ Spotlight and StateImpact on Friday in Camden, Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, called “wholly inappropriate’’ any move to transfer water from the basin for drilling for the fossil fuel.
If the water resources are to be protected, others on the panel argued more focus needs to be placed on what is happening on land located within the 13,539 square-mile basin, particularly in its upper portions where its headwaters are.

Perpetual sprawl

“We know what the problems are,’’ said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society. “Fundamentally, it comes down to physical changes in the landscape. We are seeing, unfortunately, perpetual sprawl and all the problems that come with that.’’
That means protecting the forests and open spaces that have not been lost to development, panelists said. There was some agreement that the DRBC should be more aggressive in overseeing land-use decisions that affect water quality, but some questions about how effective that might be. “It could do it beautifully if they chose to do it,’’ van Rossum said. “The reality of the DRBC embracing it though is rather slim.’’
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