Whitewater releases may be canceled
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS View of the Francis E. Walter Reservoir from the bridge to the control tower. Because of less than half the normal rainfall, the reservoir level has dropped and whitewater recreational releases are being canceled.
Due to a prolonged lack of rain this summer, Lehigh River whitewater dam releases may be canceled for the balance of the paddling season.
Steve Rochette, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia District said, "The current level of water storage will not allow the corps to complete whitewater releases after Sunday, Aug. 29."
The USACE's Francis E. Walter Reservoir Recreation Operations Plan for 2010 included 18 guaranteed release dates, on selected weekends from May 15 to Aug. 21, and six optional release dates from Aug. 22 through Sept. 5 with a dam drawdown release on Sept. 17. The optional releases were predicated from the start on sufficient stored water being available at the Francis E. Walter Reservoir in Luzerne County.
Since the paddling season began in April, the total precipitation has been only 12 inches, significantly below the average rainfall of 22 inches during this period.
In April, the F.E.W. Dam had stored water to an elevation of 1,370 feet. The level has declined to 1,326 feet. At an elevation of 1,300, the dam is considered to be drained.
Flow through the gates of the F.E.W. Dam just prior to the weekend release, which will be between 600 and 750 cubic feet per second (cfs.) from 1 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, is 78 cfs. in and 109 cfs. out.
According to the flow management plan, during the season, at low inflows, 50 cfs. above inflow is released to keep the water cool to maintain a trout fishery. Trout become sluggish when water temperatures rise above 70 degrees. The water being released from the F.E.W. Dam is about 74 degrees. The fisheries' releases are currently scheduled to continue through Sept 10.
The Army Corps had initially sent notification that the dam would have its last release on Aug. 21. A rainfall soon followed and the release schedule was increased to Aug. 22. Sunday's rainfall of three inches prompted the Army Corps to schedule whitewater releases for Aug. 28 and 29. The upcoming whitewater releases will be between 750 cfs. and 850 cfs. of water.
The summer whitewater releases have helped bring tourists to rafting areas such as the town of Jim Thorpe. Outfitters, such as Pocono Whitewater, have been booked at a capacity level of 2,000 paddlers on a Saturday, and 1,500 paddlers on a Sunday. The influx of tourists helped the town to see a 30 percent uptick in sales at local restaurants.