More summer whitewater releases on Lehigh
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS George Sauls, left, northern area engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, listens as Chris Kocher, president of the Wildlands Conservancy, facilitates the discussion of the 2010 whitewater release plan. Nearly 100 outdoor adventure lovers met at the Mountain Laurel Resort in White Haven to discuss the coming years whitewater release plan.
To a meeting of nearly 100 outdoor adventure lovers from the paddling, fishing and environmental communities, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced its 2010 program of scheduled Lehigh River releases from the Francis E. Walter Dam.
The 2010 program, now entering its sixth year, builds upon a facilitated program of shared planning and criticism, that was introduced to come up with a way of sharing the precious resource of the region's primary water artery among groups with disparate needs, that had no means of communicating with one another on the issues.
The 2009 program, which was considered a success by all parties, served as the basis for the 2010 plan, with one principal change whitewater releases will be clustered in the summer months a time when commercial rafters draw their customers; whitewater boaters enjoy warm weather paddling; and fish need extra water to reduce river temperatures.
The meeting, held at the Mountain Laurel Resort in White Haven, was facilitated by Chris Kocher, president of the Wildlands Conservancy, with the technical presentation given by George Sauls, northern area engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Sauls began, noting that the plan was the result of cooperation between four agencies: the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Sauls continued with a brief history of the Francis E. Walter Dam, which was completed in 1961 for the single purpose of flood control. After being pressured by the paddling community to have regular dam releases, in 1988 the dam was reauthorized with recreation as a project purpose. In 2005, construction of an access road across the top of the dam permitted storage of large quantities of water which had previously blocked the only road crossing the dam for several miles.
There is a program that is currently in operation and will continue into June that will inject grout into the dam embankment to reduce infiltration. The access road across the dam is expected to be closed in June during the construction. The grouting project is not expected to affect the operation of the dam or the scheduled releases.
Sauls noted the flow management program seeks to provide recreation in three ways: whitewater for kayak, rafting and canoeing; in-lake boating in the pool above the dam; and fishing both in-lake and downstream of the dam.
Over the preceding five years, changes to the operation of the dam has allowed the storage level to increase from 35 feet in 2005, to 65 feet in 2006, and to 70 feet in 2008. During this period, the number of scheduled whitewater releases increased from 22 to 24.
Whitewater release schedule for 2010
These releases are planned based on water stored at the beginning of the season.
May 15, 29, 30
June 12, 13, 26, 27
July 10, 11, 24, 25, 31
August 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21
The following scheduled releases will be possible only if sufficient rain is available during the season.
August 22, 28, 29
Sept. 4, 5, 17 (Sept. 17 is planned as a 4,000 CFS release.)
The 2010 Lehigh River Flow Management Plan is based upon storage of 70 feet of water by May 15. This is equivalent to 6.21 billion gallons above the normal pool. With the large recent snowfall, the Army Corps expects that sufficient water will be available to fill the reservoir.
To conserve water, releases will continue to take place from 1 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In previous years, whitewater releases were made every second weekend. This year, whitewater releases will be made every second weekend in May and June, and every weekend from late July to early September. Sauls noted, that in the event of a major storm, the Army Corps may dump water or cancel releases with little warning.
Release levels attempt to balance fish ecology with boating opportunities. While storing water, the dam will have a minimum release of 250 cubic feet per second, and not exceed 400 cfs. during April trout season weekends. Whitewater releases will match inflow up to 1,000 cfs., but may be reduced to 750 cfs. if there is insufficient water.
During the May and June fish spawning season in the upper reaches of the Lehigh River, the pool will be limited to fluctuations between the 65 and 70 foot markings. May whitewater releases will not exceed 800 cfs., with Sunday releases possibly reduced to six hours.
Additional information will be posted as it becomes available at: www.nap.usace.army.mil/Projects/FEWalter. This site may be used to submit comments on the plan.