Cape Town water crisis reminds how Philly has been able to avoid its own drought disaster

Created by JFK, the Delaware River Basin Commission emerged as a unifying force amid record dry spell Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice Facing an unprecedented water crisis, Cape Town, South Africa is restricting residents to a mere 13 gallons of water each day.
Philadelphia is unlikely to wind up in a situation similar to Cape Town, in part because climate change is expected to make the region wetter – not more dry.
But lessons learned decades ago, when the Delaware River basin endured a severe drought, prompted infrastructure and management procedures that now protect the entire basin’s water supply, which feeds both Philadelphia and New York City.
Because the lower portions of the Delaware River are tidal and contain saltwater, freshwater flows are needed to keep the salt line from advancing too far upstream, where a major Philadelphia water intake is located.
They’re not set up for it, but no one wants to drink salt water."
– Carol Collier, former DRBC executive director During the preceding decades, the Delaware River Basin had experienced an array of water supply shortages, apportionment disputes, water quality issues and devastating floods.
In 1931, the Supreme Court ruled that New York City could export 440 million gallons per day from the basin, prompting the construction of two of the three Delaware River basin reservoirs that are owned and operated by New York City.
Through the DRBC, the four basin states devised a drought management plan that reduces reservoir releases, lowers streamflow objectives and reduces water diversions to New York City and New Jersey.
The plan effectively preserves the water supply for New York City, while preventing the salt line to move too far upstream.
Under the most severe conditions – when a drought emergency is called – the DRBC can request water releases from various basin reservoirs, or ask water to be stored in federal reservoirs.

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