The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Philadelphia District received comments from the paddling, fishing, environmental and local communities at a public meeting held at the Mountain Laurel Resort in White Haven on Monday evening, Nov. 10.
The meeting began with a focus on the whitewater release events during the 2011 season, and then invited suggestions for improvement for the 2012 season. The 2011 was the seventh season of seasonal whitewater releases.
George Sauls, the Northern Area Engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, hosted the meeting. He noted that during the 2011 release season, all scheduled releases were achieved, and because of the wet weather, additional releases including two mega-releases were made.
Sails noted that after seven years of meeting in both the fall for a summary and planning meeting and in the winter for a release schedule meeting, the Lehigh River Flow Management Plan was becoming mature, and he was considering elimination of the winter meeting.
Members of the audience praised the performance of the Corps operation of the dam during releases. Mike Stewart was especially appreciative of their level of communication through press releases, web pages, and Facebook postings.
Scott Belisle, a White Haven fisherman, told Sauls that in the spring while fishing, the level of the Lehigh River rapidly rose from 300 cfs to 1,200 cfs, and only by rapidly evacuating was he able to avoid being swept away by the current. Belisle asked for changes to avoid this type of unsafe operation.
Sauls noted that the dam's operating manual limits opening of the gates to one foot every ten minutes, and during the springtime fishing seasons, it is not typical for a recreational water release.
Sauls said that although the current storage level is 1,370 feet above sea level, with the normal pool being 1,300 feet. In the first year of the release plan it was set at 1,335 feet and raised to 1,365 feet in the second year before settling to 1,370 feet in the third and subsequent years. He said, "In order to prepare for a storm, 1,370 is the limit where the Corps feels comfortable on encroaching-about 18 percent of flood control storage."
Sauls reminded the audience that the Francis E. Walter Dam was built for the single purpose of flood control, which took precedence during the two Lee and Irene hurricanes in 2011.
Doug Fogal commented that although the Corps information indicates the actual flows, it is not always a good planning tool for those who fish or boat a distance downstream from the FEW Dam. Fogal suggested that the Corps add travel times to their web site. For instance, depending on the flow rate of the release, the bubble of released water could take about 12 hours to reach Glen Onoko, and another two hours to reach Lehighton. Sauls said that he plans to add travel times to the Corps' facebook page.