Low flow on the Lehigh
For the last seven years, beginning April 1, water has been stored at the Francis E. Walter Dam for release over the summer season to keep the water cool for its fishery and to allow weekend whitewater releases. It is halfway through its storage period, having reached less than 10 percent of its 70-foot storage objective.
"If you don't like the weather, wait awhile," advised Mark Twain.
That said, conditions may improve some with this weekend's rain, but not dramatically.
Since the beginning of 2012, a near absence of snow coupled with a lack of spring rains has begun the raising of the red flag for a potential drought throughout much of the northeastern United States, and in particular, northeastern Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry has posted its fire alert at the danger level; gardeners are enjoying the early warm weather but are noticing that the top level of the soil is dry; and the Lehigh River is so low that it can be forded in most places.
For the last seven years, beginning April 1, water has been stored at the Francis E. Walter Dam for release over the summer season to keep the water cool for its fishery and to allow weekend Lehigh River whitewater releases.
The plan was to store 70 feet of water in advance of the first scheduled release. In 2012, the first scheduled release is May 12.
At this writing on April 18, the dam is close to halfway into its storage period and its reservoir is only at 20 feet. Because the reservoir is in the shape of an inverted cone, there is much greater storage in the top 10 feet than in the bottom 10 feet.
The FEW Dam has stored less than 10 percent of its planned storage, and may only have enough water for one or two releases rather than the approximately 20 scheduled-planned weekend releases from May 12 through Aug. 9, and additional releases through Sept. 14 if there is sufficient summer rainfall.
"It's possible that we are going to have a water crisis," said George Sauls, Northern Area engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "but it's a problem that only takes one good rainstorm to correct, and over the last few years, around the time we start our releases, there have been significant rain events."
Sauls began accumulating water at the dam on April 1, although there wasn't much water available.
At this time in the season the dam is allowed to store any water over a flow rate of 200 cubic feet per second on weekdays.
As the inflow to the dam has barely exceeded this level, Sauls modified the plan to store any water over a flow rate of 175 cubic feet per second seven days a week.
Concerned that conditions may not improve, Sauls posted on the FEW's Facebook site, /www.facebook.com/fewalterdam, "I see that some people are concerned about our ability to reach the target pool elevation of 1,370 in time for our first scheduled release on May 12. While we still have ample time to recover, I think the concern is justified."
If the drought conditions continue, Sauls said, "Our choices are limited: cancel, reduce flow, postpone or manage for the fishery."
"Since the planned releases started seven years ago, rafting has become a summer business," said Paul Fogal of Pocono Whitewater. "With the 20 feet of water currently stored at the dam, we could expect to have three 700 cfs releases. Perhaps by then, we'll have a good rain fall."
Rain is predicted for the coming weekend.