After a torrent of objections from the public, a plan to manage the flow of the Delaware River - the latest in a half-century's worth of wrestling matches among four states, the federal government, and others - is headed for review.
The plan is an attempt to balance the needs of a bigfoot - New York City, with its withdrawals of drinking water and its reserve supplies in three headwaters reservoirs - against those of the Philadelphia region and elsewhere.
Although the wording is technical, it involves critical issues such as flooding and fish survival in regions populated by millions of people.
The plan actually has been in effect for more than a year and will continue for now.
Legal complexities meant it had not been formally adopted by the Delaware River Basin Commission, the agency that manages the river's flows. The agency had been expected to "codify" the plan at its Dec. 10 public meeting.
But executive director Carol R. Collier announced yesterday that the commission would probably withdraw the measure and instruct its staff to make improvements.
The plan's critics - and there have been plenty, providing most of the 1,900 public comments - praised the move, saying it would give them another chance to make their case.
Commission spokesman Clarke Rupert said the move did not suggest a wasted effort. "It's a process," he said.
A new flood-analysis model is expected in January, and use of the plan has provided helpful data, he said.
The issue gets to the heart of water management in an urban area. In times of drought, there isn't enough water to go around. During floods, there's too much.
Officials have been attempting to find a balance since 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New York City could take drinking water from the river - removing it from the watershed - but only if there was enough flowing downstream. If rainfall was inadequate, then water had to be released from the headwaters reservoirs.
In recent years, the commission began to consider other needs, such as such as maintaining cold-water fisheries and limiting floods downstream.
The flows also affect industries, which depend on the Delaware for cooling, and Philadelphia, which gets some of its drinking water from the river.
Perhaps the most vocal group has been flood victims - both upstream and down - who want the reservoir levels to be lowered "so when the rains come in, we're not looking at full and overflowing reservoirs," said Chuck Shroeder, who has a house along the river in New York and manages a Web site,
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"This plan has been based on bad science and 25-year-old mistakes," said Elaine Reichart, a resident of Belvidere, N.J., and president of Aquatic Conservation Unlimited, a Bucks County nonprofit.
Reichart said continued use of the plan - another is unlikely to be devised before summer, at the earliest - was unacceptable: "It is only by the grace of God, due to the weather patterns, that we have not flooded."
But the opposite concern, if rainfall is scarce, could be drinking-water shortages in New York City, said Jeffrey Featherstone, director of the Center for Sustainable Communities and a former DRBC official.
Maya van Rossum, head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, also opposed the plan, for different reasons.
She said it called for expanding the upriver reservoirs without adequate study or expert review.
And using upstream reservoirs to mitigate flooding as far downstream as Bucks County, she said, is "an unachievable goal. . . . It is giving these people a false sense of security."
"This is not about a person's right to live along the river," she said. "This is about what is right for the watershed community as a whole, everybody who depends on that river, all the people and all the critters. This plan failed to do that."