The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a program of fisheries enhancement releases, and a schedule of planned dam releases for whitewater recreation on the Lehigh River. Subject to water availability, the Corps has set 24 release dates, from May 14 through Sept. 16.
The announcement was made Feb. 10 at a the seventh annual meeting of stakeholders concerned about management of the Lehigh River. The meeting was facilitated by Chris Kocher, president of the Wildlands Conservancy, with the technical presentation given by George Sauls of the USACE.
The stakeholders consisted of rafting outfitters, fishing clubs, private boaters, environmentalists, conservation groups and residents, along with representatives from the Delaware River Basin Commission, Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the USACE.
In beginning his presentation, Sauls reminded the participants that the original, and still the primary mission of the Francis E. Walter Dam, is flood control. Recreation was later added as a secondary mission, and with the completion of the access road across the top of the dam in 2005 which allowed for significant storage in the upstream pool, became possible for much of the summer season.
Excepting for an adjustment of dates, the 2011 Lehigh River flow management plan is similar to the 2010 plan. The plan seeks to balance the desires of whitewater boating, boating in the lake above the dam, and fishing both above and below the dam. With the ability to maintain continuous cool summer water releases, the upper Lehigh River has become a trout fishery.
The baseline elevation of the dam is 1,300 feet above sea level. After the 2005 access road was completed, the first planned storage was set at 1,335 feet. In 2006, it was increased to 1,365 feet, and to 1,370 feet in 2008-where it will remain in 2011.
In the question and answer period, Tom Huff asked if the level could be increased to improve the fishery in the section between Stoddartsville and the FEW Dam. Sauls reminded Huff that the primary mission of the dam is flood control, and to go beyond the 1,370 level could overflow the dam in the event of a sudden major storm.
Sauls reviewed the historical performance of the dam releases: in 2005, 22 were planned and 10 were held; in 2006, 22 were planned and 22 were held; in 2007, 22 were planned and 22 were held; in 2008, 24 were planned and 23 were held; in 2009 24 were planned and 24 were held, and in 2010, 24 were planned and 22 were held.
The scheduled whitewater release dates for 2011 are: May 14, 28, 29, June 11, 12, 25, 26 July 9, 10, 23, 24, 30, 31, August 6, 7, 13, 14, August 20, 21, 27, 28, September 3, 4 and 16. There is sufficient water stored in the FEW reservoir in the spring to guarantee releases through August 21. Releases scheduled for August 27 and later are subject to additional water becoming available.
To enhance the fisheries, releases of 100 cfs over inflow will be made through July 23, and 50 cfs over inflow continuing through Sept. 11. Target whitewater releases that have been set are: up to 800 cfs in May, and up to 750 cfs in June.
When the FEW pool is filled to 1,300 feet, the dam has 6.21 billion gallons of storage. On release dates, water will be let out from the FEW dam from 1 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In the event of weather uncertainty, the Corps will post a notification on its web site, www.nap.usace.army. mil/Projects/FEWalter.