Executive Director, Delaware River Basin Commission
Carol R. Collier was appointed Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) on August 31, 1998. Before joining DRBC, Ms. Collier was Executive Director of Pennsylvania’s 21st Century Environmental Commission. Prior to that, she was Regional Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) Southeast Region. Prior to PADEP, Ms. Collier served 19 years with BCM Environmental Engineers, Inc., Plymouth Meeting, Pa., beginning as a student intern and ultimately becoming Vice President of Environmental Planning, Science and Risk.
Ms. Collier has a B.A. in Biology from Smith College and a Masters in Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. She is a Professional Planner licensed in the State of New Jersey, a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and a Certified Senior Ecologist. In 1997 she was presented the Touchstone Award from the Society of Women Environmental Professionals and in 1998 the Woman of Distinction Award from the Philadelphia Business Journal. In 2007 the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) presented her with the Mary H. Marsh Medal for exemplary contributions to the protection and wise use of the nation’s water resources.
She is a member of her township’s environmental protection advisory board, on the Boards of the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) and the newly formed Clean Water America Alliance (CWAA), teaches environmental management courses at the University of Pennsylvania and has published on environmental and water-related topics.
At 330 miles long, the Delaware River is the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi River. The area that drains into this river, known as a watershed, is a fairly small compared to the Susquehanna River watershed but it provides water for 15 million people. It also requires a more complex management hierarchy because wherever you are standing on the banks of the Delaware, you are looking at another state. That calls for collaboration and cooperation which is what the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), is tasked to facilitate. DRBC has representation from four states – New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
New York City has three reservoirs holding more than 300 billion gallons that are fed by the watershed. Half the city’s drinking water comes from the Delaware. The city regularly wins drinking water contests with the unfiltered Delaware River water flowing into its municipal water system. The quality of water in the Delaware is so high its upper reaches are a world-class trout fishery. A large portion of the three quarters of the Delaware’s waters that are non-tidal are registered as national wild and scenic waters and there are three National Park Service units on the river. It has the largest overwintering eagle nesting grounds on the east coast.
The head of tide, or point at which the river becomes tidal in nature, is at Trenton, New Jersey. It is a working river and when you combine the ports from Philadelphia to mouth of Delaware Bay, they comprise the largest concentration of port facilities in the world. There are more than 800 municipalities in 42 counties and 25 Congressional districts in the Delaware River Basin. Forty-two percent of the population of Pennsylvania lives within this area.
In the 1950s people saw a need for the various governmental bodies to come together leading to the formation of the DRBC in 1961. Pollution and water supply concerns drove the movement. DRBC has authority to regulate water quality and is responsible for fair share distribution to cities and municipalities within the basin. But its greatest value is bringing people together for the common good of the watershed. Nature, science, and politics continue to change, making DRBC’s roll as a forum more important than ever.
In the 1960s there was a multi-year drought and there wasn’t enough water to go around. The mayor of New York City stopped releasing the agreed-upon amount of water that had been set by the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead of the other states going to court to seek a remedy, they came up, through the auspices of the DRBC, with a good-faith agreement to address the problem.
As we look forward to the prospect of climate change, it becomes more important to follow this example. The effects of climate change will be especially critical in the Philadelphia area. In the 1960s the point at which the water in the river becomes salty came up river and reached to within 12 miles of the Philadelphia’s water intakes. We have to make sure enough fresh water is coming down the river to keep that salt line at bay and not get into the city’s water system. Even though there are no dams on the river, it is a heavily managed system.
In addition to making sure the big cities have water, we also need to ensure adequate water for all the other residents and commercial uses like agriculture. We have been working with the Army Corps of Engineers to look at water supply now and into the future. One interesting thing to look at is raw water withdrawn for non-public use and how much is consumed. What we find is that most of the commercial water withdrawn goes to electric generation at the Salem nuclear plant, Limerick and places like that. Agriculture uses less than one percent of the total. However, the majority of agricultural water is consumed for irrigation and is either taken up by plants or evaporated. Very little moves down through the soil into the groundwater. Sixty-six percent of irrigation water is drawn from surface water and the remainder from groundwater.
Looking out to the year 2030, our analysis shows most of the population growth is likely to occur North of Philadelphia, especially in the Pocono area. The good news is they have plenty of water. When it comes to water supply concerns, we are most concerned about the Schuylkill Basin, the lower Lehigh Valley, Southeast Pennsylvania in general and Southern New Jersey. We have developed a Pennsylvania groundwater protected area because in these areas, the supply is not great. Within this there are 76 different sub-watersheds and for each we have calculated how much groundwater can be taken out before it begins to impact stream flow. We have also set the amount of groundwater than can be withdrawn per day and it has made a positive difference.
Going back to agriculture for a moment, one of the shifts we are seeing is to more organic produce for that growing market. These crops take more water. We also see more and more irrigation with the large proportion of it being sprinklers or water guns which consume more water than drip irrigation due to higher rates of evaporation. We also see the move to production of bio-fuels from crops as a future driver for agriculture. Bio-fuels plants require a lot of water and corn used as the feedstock is a big user of water compared to crops like wheat.
We see increasing temperature in the future as a result of climate change. We also see the same or increasing precipitation but in different patterns. We will have more intense storms, particularly in winter and spring and drier summers. This is projected to be accompanied with time shifts in when things happen. Winter snow melt, for instance, could come a month earlier than the salmon run, so these two events could become disconnected. Temperatures are also predicted to go up and sea levels to rise.
When we get South of the point at which the glaciers stopped in the last ice age, the land is slowly subsiding to lower levels. When this is combined with rising sea levels, there is cause for concern. This is likely to flood a number of wetlands that provide habitat for wildlife and perform a valuable function in the ecosystem. Ecological modeling suggests that as temperature rise, much of what are now hard wood forests will become populated with Southern species such as pines. For farmers, higher temperatures may mean less milk production, more invasive species of weeds and more irrigation.
As water concerns grow in the future, measures may need to be taken such as developing better storm water control, building more reservoirs and in places like Philadelphia, relocating water intakes to keep salt water from entering fresh water supplies. Farmers will also need to be part of the solution if the Delaware River Basin is to meet the expectations as the reliable source of quality fresh water it has in the past.
In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.