Paddlers and anglers review Lehigh River releases
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS George Sauls, the Northern Area Engineer who oversees the operation of Philadelphia's five dams, including the Francis E. Walter Dam facilitates meeting to review the 2012 Francis E. Walter Dam Recreation Plan and solicit feedback from paddlers and anglers for next year's plan.
The U.S. Army Corps Engineers' Philadelphia District hosted an annual meeting to review the 2012 Francis E. Walter Dam recreation plan and solicit feedback from paddlers and anglers for next year's plan.
The meeting was held on Tuesday evening October 16 at the Holiday Inn Express in White Haven. In 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers held 22 of 24 scheduled whitewater events and numerous releases for fisheries throughout the recreation season.
George Sauls, the Northern Area Engineer who oversees the operation of Philadelphia's five dams, including the Francis E. Walter Dam facilitated the meeting. "We are here to discuss the successes and values of this year's recreation program and any ideas for enhancement or improvement for next year," Sauls began.
"The Corps of Engineers partners with DCNR and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in developing the plan for Walter Dam," he explained. "Fish and Boats had a similar meeting last week. There was a suggestion that we allow the pool above the dam to rise above 1370 feet under certain circumstances."
"The Corps of Engineers is committed to provide storage between elevation 1300 and 1370 feet for recreational purposes. The Corps is not willing to entertain planned modifications that would allow intentional storage above 1370 feet for recreation purposes."
"I was pleased with the balance to provide water levels to both sides, both the fisheries and whitewater releases," Jerry McAward of Jim Thorpe River Adventures said. "I appreciated all the communication through facebook and emails."
Matt MacConnell of the Lehigh River Stocking Association said, "We appreciate your cooperation during our big Lunkerfest in May 2012, our second year of a substantial trout fishing contest in Bowmanstown."
"We are hoping that if we plan ahead you can plan to cut the water for the weekend that the Lehigh River Stocking Association has its fishing contest. We will choose the weekend to avoid the Whitewater release. We would like the water level as low as possible."
"It is at the end of May, generally. It is a big deal and everyone should come. I appreciate it. Every foot makes a big difference." MacConnell asked if the release from the dam for that weekend could be 1,000 cfs or less so that the flow at Lehighton would be below 2,000 cfs.
At the end of each season, the Army Corps releases the remaining water stored at the Francis E. Walter Dam. This is called a MegaRelease. There was discussion about spreading the release across a weekend.
Sauls said that the MegaRelease was his design, and while that was primarily intended to draw down the dam at the end of the season, the release has been announced so that paddlers of the proper skill level could take advantage of it. Because so much water is released, the gates to the dam are opened in a preplanned manner.
"We look at how much water we have to get rid of, how we step down, and how long each step lasts," Sauls explained. "It is not prescribed, it is based upon how much water we have. For example, we didn't have any water to get rid of this year."
There was a discussion about an early MegaRelease. Sauls was not supportive of this because he didn't want to release water early in the season and run the risk of not having enough water for later in the season, and then commented, "It's nice to see the crowd being hydrologically aware."
There was discussion about the phrasing and meaning of: "Fisheries Release", "Fisheries Enhancement Release", and "Fisheries Enhancement Augmentation Release". "These are never good times to go fishing," an angler commented. "While it's helping the fishery, it's really helping a whole ecological system of the Lehigh River."
"The authorized purposes are fishing and boating," Sauls said, "not environmental enhancement. I like the word 'fisheries' because it is true to the authorized language for what we are doing."
"A good level for fishing is 300 to 400 cfs from the dam," said Dean Druckenmiller of the Lehigh Coldwater Fishery Alliance. "Barring any significant rainstorm, it makes it very fishable."
What followed was a lengthy discussion that included limiting flow on non-Whitewater release weekends to 400 cfs for improved access to fishing, and in early raising of the reservoir to 1,370 feet.
Ken Powley of Whitewater Challengers noted, "When the level is excessive, you can still fish. When the level is too low to boat, it is too low to boat. There are only 23 days for planned boating releases."
Powley added, "From 1958 to 2012, they have never been unable to have enough water to have reached a 1,370 foot elevation on July 1."
Sauls noted, "This year we were at 1,368 on July 1. That was 3 feet extra, above the 1,365 level." This led to a lengthy discussion about the interpretation of the maximum storage level, with various references to the spring maximum level variation of 5 feet during the spawning season and whether that range falls between 1,365 and 1,370, or in the general 1,365 range. Sauls was of the opinion that the 1,370 was a maximum and 1,365 was the goal.