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No Sense of Urgency About Drought By DRBC Leadership

Drought puts DRBC Resolve and Climate Adaptation Leadership to the test

[Update: 11/27/16 – Did we light a fire under DRBC or what?

NJ Spotlight has a good story today about the drought situation in the lower Delaware, see:

Essentially ignoring the science and more dire assessments of his professional staff, DRBC Executive Director Tambini downplays the problem and shows no sense of urgency:

Despite the expectations of little new rainfall, DRBC Executive Director Steve Tambini said there are no immediate plans to declare a drought emergency, and that the commissioners don’t plan to meet to review the situation until December 14.

A drought emergency would be triggered by reservoir levels, the weather forecast, and the status of the salt front. “Our objective is to make sure we’ve got enough water in storage to repel the salt front,” Tambini said, in an interview. …

“At this point, the salt front is well below the intakes,” Tambini said.

This is not good, particularly given DRBC’s historic leadership and excellent work on adaptation to climate change, including drought related impacts.

Tambini is doing the legal minimum.

The Spotlight story failed to note the legal obligations that force Tambini’s hand, while leaving the wrong impression that State drought indicators were more stringent and/or scientifically sound than those relied on by DRBC:

By contrast [with DRBC focus on the salt line], state authorities look at a broader range of indicators including groundwater levels and stream flow in deciding whether to declare drought watches or warnings.

This is doubly misleading, because NJ DEP delayed issuing a drought warning, a posture DRBC seems on a path to repeat, see:

The Spotlight story also left important facts unmentioned.

DRBC is legally obligated under the Compact to order reservoir releases when the river flow at Trenton falls below 3,000 CFS for 5 consecutive days – and that power plants are major water users that would be subject to DRBC water curtailments –  as we’ve written.

Ignoring that fact and suggesting that States have “broader drought indicators” creates the false impression that Tambini is exercising his expertise and DRBC management powers prudently by downplaying drought conditions.

Also ignored by Spotlight is the fact that Mr. Tambini may face conflicts of interest, given his prior private water company corporate experiences. 

Mr. Tambini has led efforts to delegate certain DRBC management powers to states, a questionable posture and deferential approach, particularly with DRBC drought powers. 

Private water companies would face economic and regulatory issues under a DRBC drought emergency.

Creating additional controvery is the fact that DRBC powers would trump State water management decisions – again, Tambini may not have the spine to pull that trigger, despite the science and recommendations of his professionals.

I am very troubled that Mr. Tambini’s judgement and DRBC’s lack of diligence may be unduly influenced by the private water companies – and the energy utilities – who would face restrictions under drought emergency.

DRBC must not repeat policy and management errors of laggard’s like the Christie DEP.

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