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Fifty years of flood protection

Published March 19. 2011 09:00AM


There's a major anniversary in Carbon County this year. It's unlikely there will be much of a celebration with it, but the event is one of the most important to ever occur in Carbon.

On June 10, it will mark 50 years since the dedication of Francis E. Walter Dam, which straddles the Carbon and Luzerne County line.

It was initially called Bear Creek Dam. The name was changed to the Francis E. Walter Dam by Congress on June 8, 1963.

At that Saturday morning dedication program, Pa. Governor David L. Lawrence called the Bear Creek Dam the "Chinese Wall" of dams.

It was the predecessor of several other very important dams - all of them with flood control priority - to be constructed including the Mauch Chunk Lake Dam and Beltzville Lake Dam.

I'm actually old enough to remember the destruction that floods caused to the region before the dam was built; specifically the 1955 flooding which caused catastrophic damages in Weissport, Tamaqua, Walnutport, Allentown, Stroudsburg, and in many other area communities.

I grew up in Weissport. I was only a young child when the flooding happened in August of 1955.

The events leading to the flooding began on Aug. 14, when Hurricane Connie saturated the region with a lot of rain. Then, about four or five days later, Hurricane Diane arrived as a tropical storm with a lot more rain.

The result was flooding so bad that most of the town of Weissport was evacuated.

Thanks to the construction of the dam, as well as a flood levee along the Lehigh River in Weissport, there have been no major floods tearing throught the town since then. Even the levee built to separate the town from the river wouldn't be enough to hold the water back at times without the White Haven area dam.

I can also recall some of the wicked floods which swept down Broadway in Jim Thorpe before the Mauch Chunk Lake and Dam were constructed in the early 1970s.

My mind flashed back to such flooding last week after four inches of rain fell in the area. I walked up the tow path of the canal whereby you could see the fury of the parallel Lehigh River. Maybe things wouldn't have been as bad as they were in 1955, but there likely would have been major local flooding had Francis E. Walter Dam not been present.

Flooding is a horrible natural disaster covering very wide areas. Most of us can recall the flooding caused in 1972 by Hurricane Agnes when Wilkes-Barre, Danville, Bloomsburg, and Harrisburg all were under water. Mauch Chunk Lake was constructed in the nick of time for Jim Thorpe residents to prevent flooding from Agnes.

The videos from the tsunami last week in Japan give a glimpse of the tragedy inflicted when water flows out of control.

Locally we are very fortunate to have dams like Francis Walter and Mauch Chunk, which save lives and property.

Though we often think of these dams are providers of recreation, their main purpose was flood control.

Younger generations likely won't ever realize the significance of these great, massive structures.

That's why hopefully some sort of anniversary event for Francis E. Walter Dam will occur. It should be an educational event in which the history of floods in our area can be presented to students in all the schools in the Lehigh River basin.

One of the main speakers at the Bear Creek Lake dedication was Congressman Daniel J. Flood. It was Flood who spearheaded the efforts to build the Mauch Chunk Lake Dam and most of the financing for it.

If you've never visited Francis E. Walter Dam, it's worth the trip. You'll be in awe at its enormous size.

And if you were a Weissport resident back in 1955, you'll certainly be appreciative of the dam, knowing that the wrath of nature which occurred 56 years ago now has a less likely chance of ever happening again.

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