Gov. Rendell met with Delaware River flood victims this afternoon, giving them a half hour to make their case that he can - and should - do more to force New York City to permanently lower water levels in its three Catskills reservoirs to lessen the threat of deluges downstream.
The meeting, closed to the news media, was held in the governor's regional office in Center City. It ended shortly after 6 p.m. with no decision by Rendell on what, if any, action to take.
In a telephone interview before the meeting, Rendell said he agreed to sit down with the residents after being confronted by New Hope flood victim Gail Pedrick while he was in the borough for the Gay Pride parade on May 17. Pedrick asked for a chance to explain why she and others think he could do more to protect Pennsylvanians living along the river.
The retired gym teacher's riverfront home sustained more than $200,000 in damage when the Delaware River flooded three times between September 2004 and June 2006.
She and more than 10,000 other flood victims and sympathizers contend that flooding has become more severe because New York City maintains its upstream reservoirs at or near capacity. At least a half-dozen citizens groups have crusaded for the reservoirs to be kept no more than 80 percent full. The manmade lakes serve 9 million people from Ulster County, N.Y., to Queens Borough.
Rendell said he is not convinced that he can force New York to change the way it operates its reservoirs. The governor said it is his understanding that any modifications would require the unanimous consent of all four basin states - New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania - and New York City.
That is what occurred in April, when, at Rendell's request, New York City agreed to hold the reservoirs at 97 percent through the month. Today, he called the effort "yeoman's work" and added, "I'm not sure I have the power to do more than I've done."
Rendell, who attended the meeting with staff attorneys, said he would take what he heard under advisement.
In the interview, he said he remains unconvinced that the reservoirs are the reason for the recent severe flooding. Rather, he said, "various townships and boroughs all along the Delaware have been doing bad land-use planning."
Even if he could require New York to lessen the amount of water in its reservoirs, Rendell said, "that doesn't mean I'll still do it."
While the welfare of flood victims is a concern, he said, so, too, are the 2.5 million residents of Philadelphia, Bucks County and South Jersey who rely on the river for water. Drought, not flooding, has been the more persistent problem along the Delaware.
Reached just before she left for the meeting, Pedrick noted only that "we have a lot to say in a half hour."
James F. Cawley, chairman of the Bucks County commissioners, said today that county officials were purposely not attending the meeting with Rendell - even though they would like him to push for lowered reservoir levels.
"It's important for the governor to experience firsthand the unrestricted passion that these residents have on this issue," Cawley said.