10.03.19

SCHUMER: DELAWARE COUNTY’S $400M TOURISM INDUSTRY, HUNDREDS OF BUSINESSES, THOUSANDS OF RESIDENTS AND COUNTLESS YEARLY VISITORS JEOPARDIZED BY LACK OF EARLY FLOOD NOTIFICATION SYSTEM; SENATOR PUSHES TO SECURE FEDERAL GRANT TO INSTALL LONG-SOUGHT AND DESPERATELY-NEEDED AUDIBLE EXTREME WEATHER ALERT SYSTEM

Lack Of Cellular Service In Delaware County Has Rendered Traditional Extreme Weather Alert Systems Ineffective; Region Is Routinely Denied Federal Flood Mitigation Funding From FEMA Because Of Low Property Values And Per Capita Damage Costs 

With A $400M Tourism Industry, Over 730 Businesses, 6,000 Residents And Countless Yearly Visitors Situated Directly In Harm’s Way, Schumer Fights To Secure $150K Appalachian Regional Commission Grant To Install New Audible Early Flood Warning System

Schumer To ARC: We Can’t Let Delaware County Fly Blind Into The Eye Of The Storm

Flanked by public safety experts and local officials representing Broome and Delaware Counties, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched a major push to secure a $150,000 grant for Delaware County from the Appalachian Regional Commission to install an audible early warning system to alert residents and visitors of imminent floods. Schumer explained that many unique factors of this part of Delaware County create a perfect storm for increased risk of flooding. The region, located in the valleys of the northern Appalachian and Catskill Mountain Ranges, is below two of the largest reservoirs in the New York City Water Supply system, infrastructure that exists for drinking water supply purposes, not flood control. Furthermore, Schumer said that existing weather warning systems are ineffective in the western part of Delaware County, as cellular service in the area is lacking. Therefore, to protect community safety, hundreds of regional businesses and the region’s booming $400 million tourism industry, Schumer urged the ARC to approve Delaware County’s grant application without any delay.

“Even though Delaware County maintains a unique risk and painful history of flash and major flooding, and the Delaware River Basin has a bustling tourism industry that must be protected from harm, the area is lacking an effective audible warning system for imminent flooding and other conditions such as extreme water temperatures. We’re allowing residents, business owners and tourists to fly blind into the eye of the storm…literally,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why today I’m urging the Appalachian Regional Commission to approve Delaware County’s application for $150,000 in grant funding to install the emergency audible notification system that locals need and deserve. With over 730 businesses, a $400 million tourism economy and thousands of permanent residents lying directly in harm’s way, the project cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Schumer explained that Delaware County has already put together a comprehensive plan for the installation and management of the new emergency notification system, which is expected to cost a total of $330,000. Specifically, the plan includes partnerships with local businesses and organizations, as well as matched contributions from, local and state governments and local businesses. While the alert system would primarily be used to notify residents and visitors of imminent flooding, it would also warn them of other weather-related threats, such as extremely cold water that could cause hypothermia. However, Schumer explained, this plan, which residents are desperate to see come to fruition, is entirely dependent on Delaware County being awarded $150,000 from the ARC.

Schumer said that with Delaware County communities being situated in valleys of the northern Appalachian and Catskill mountain ranges, it has among the highest number of federally declared severe storm and flood-related disasters in the United States. Furthermore, Schumer noted, Delaware County is just downstream of the Pepacton Reservoir, which holds 140.2 billion gallons of water, and the Cannonsville Reservoir, which holds 95.7 billion gallons of water. These reservoirs are two of the largest reservoirs of the New York City Water Supply. As the two reservoirs were designed to supply New York City with clean drinking water and not for flood mitigation and control, Schumer argued that the flood risk for Delaware County is made even greater. Over recent years, increased rainfall has resulted in a swollen Delaware River, thereby elevating the region’s risk of flash flooding even further. Additionally, because of the rural Delaware County’s sprawling size and lack of access to cellular service and broadband internet, existing warning systems have proven ineffective, leaving residents flying blind into potentially treacherous conditions. Schumer said that all of these factors create the perfect storm for potential disaster in Delaware County, as well as an urgent and pressing need to install an emergency warning system.

Schumer explained that while Delaware County has attempted to seek more traditional means of flood mitigation funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the past, it is routinely denied. This is because the county fails to meet FEMA’s Benefit Cost Analysis, due in large part to low property values in the area and per capita damage calculations. However, Schumer maintained, these factors do not imply any less of a need to protect the residents and businesses from flooding, and in fact highlight why the support from ARC is even more critical.  

Schumer also discussed Delaware County’s painful history flooding in arguing for the necessity of the emergency notification system. In recalling his visit to Colchester in June of 2007, days after a devastating flash flood wreaked havoc in the Town of Colchester, destroying public and private property and infrastructure, and most tragically resulting in the loss of life. Schumer said “We know all too well, that Delaware County has an elevated flood risk. For communities like Deposit, Downsville, and others located here in the western portion of the county, that threat is compounded by factors beyond Mother Nature, including the presence of reservoirs that collectively hold back 236 billion gallons of water, and are routinely at 80 percent capacity. We cannot stand idly by, and leave the safety of its people and economies vulnerable. An audible early warning detection system is desperately needed, and long overdue.”

Beyond being a risk to public safety, Schumer said the lack of a proper warning system also threatens the expansion and preservation of a $400 million tourism industry in the Delaware River Basin, as well as over 730 businesses in the area. Schumer explained that Delaware County is a popular destination for fishermen and tourists alike because of its scenic trails and breathtaking waters. The installation of an audible early warning is particularly critical to the economic vitality of communities like Downsville, Cooks Falls, Corbett, Shinhopple, Stilesville, McClure, Hale Eddy, Hancock and Deposit, all of which benefit greatly from the region’s bustling tourism industry and would be significantly harmed if flooding caused a downturn in tourist activity.

In advocating for the federal ARC investment, Schumer said that Delaware County and the many communities and businesses within it remain vulnerable to the threat of flooding, making it an even more pressing matter. The absence of a proper, functional early warning system consistently puts over 730 businesses and employees, 6,000 residents and countless tourists who visit the region to recreate along the Delaware River each year directly in harm’s way. Schumer said that because of this, ARC should review and approve Delaware County’s application for funding as soon as possible.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments that focuses on the development of 420 counties across the Appalachian region. The ARC’s mission is to “innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.” More information on the ARC can be found here.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the ARC appears below.

Dear Mr. Thomas,

I am pleased to write in strong support of the application submitted in 2017 by Delaware County Department of Emergency Services to develop early warning systems in the communities of Colchester and Deposit in order to alert residents and visitors of imminent flood threats. This funding is integral for human health and safety, protection of the New York City water supply system and countless regional businesses, and the preservation of a more than $400 million tourism economy.

The picturesque Delaware County is located in the heart of the northern Appalachian and Catskill Mountain ranges, with many of the communities in the shallow valleys of the terrain. The two communities I mention are particularly unique due to their positioning within the Southern Tier Region of New York, which exacerbates flood risk, and their vital role of providing billions of gallons of water to the New York City Aqueduct system each year. Deposit is located below the Cannonsville Reservoir impoundment, which holds roughly one hundred billion gallons of water and similarly, Colchester is positioned below the Pepacton Reservoir, which holds over one hundred and forty billion gallons of water. Due to the primary role of these reservoirs being drinking water, a 1954 Supreme Court decree mandates the water level maintained and the amount of water released is dictated by unanimous consent of the five signatories of the decree: New York City, New York State, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. This decree, though effective in principle, does not address flood mitigation for the surrounding communities, such as Deposit and Colchester, leaving the local communities at a higher flood risk.

As a result, Delaware County has among the highest number of disaster declarations for floods in NY and among the top disaster declarations for severe storms in the United States according to FEMA. In addition, the two largest reservoirs of the NYC Water Supply, the Pepacton and Cannonsville Reservoir, are both located upstream in Delaware County, which exacerbates flood risk, as the reservoirs are managed offsite for consumption and not used as a flood control dam. Furthermore, over recent years, the increase in rainfall has resulted in a swollen river, thereby, elevating the region’s risk of flash flooding. These combined factors create the perfect storm for disaster, and an urgent need for an early warning system.

Delaware County has attempted to seek more traditional means for mitigation funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Mitigation program, but has been routinely denied due to failure to meet their Benefit Cost Analysis for property damage due in large part to low property values and per capita calculations. Existing warning systems have proven ineffective due to the rural communities’ sprawling size and lack of access to cellular service and broadband. Nonetheless, the risk to life, property and economic vitality remains real and viable. History has shown that these flash flooding events can prove deadly, as evidenced by a tragic loss of life during a sudden flash flooding event in Colchester in 2007. The absence of an effective warning system consistently places over 700 businesses and employees, 6,000 residents and countless tourists who visit the region to recreate along the Delaware River each year in harm’s way. In short, the absence of an effective warning system in this region risks millions of dollars in economic activity, stymies the future potential of economic growth in the region and the incalculable cost of loss of life.

The specter of sudden flooding looms heavy, and the absence of proper warning to such danger threatens the expansion and preservation of a $400 million tourism industry in the Delaware River Basin. Fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts flock in droves to Delaware County to enjoy the scenic trails and bountiful waters. The well-being of thousands of tourists and a vital industry are at risk of being lost if proper safety infrastructure is not put in place. The installation of an audible early warning system is essential for the economic safety of communities like Downsville, Cooks Falls, Corbett, Shinhopple, Stilesville, McClure, Hale Eddy, Hancock, and Deposit, all of whom benefit from the boon the tourism industry brings to the region, and who would be adversely harmed if flooding events forced a downturn in this industry. The ARC’s support would not only promote economic development, but also provide security to over 700 businesses throughout the region, and aligns well with the commission’s mission to “innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.”

Delaware County has put together a comprehensive plan for installation and management of this new emergency warning system that includes partnerships, and matched contributions from the local and state governments, along with local businesses, first responders and countless others. This vast association of resources demonstrates the unwavering commitment the local community and its leaders have to creating a safe and vibrant community for all its residents and visitors.  I applaud Delaware County and the role it continues to play in encouraging regional tourism and welfare of the community.

Much time has elapsed since the urgent, last resort request was advanced for your consideration. I urge an expeditious approval of their request, as communities and their economies remain vulnerable as they await the necessary assistance to move this project forward. If there is any doubt, I implore you to visit this beautiful area of NY to see first-hand the tremendous impact this project will have, and hear from its stakeholders about its value. Thank you for your consideration.  Please do not hesitate to contact my Southern Tier Regional Office at 607-772-6792.

Sincerely,

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