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Carbon opposed to dam proposal

Carbon County officials want their voices heard that they are not in favor of providing water to New York City.

On Thursday, Commissioners’ Chairman Wayne Nothstein spoke about the virtual hearing on the Francis E. Walter Dam Reservoir Reevaluation Study that is scheduled for March 18.

Nothstein said the county still opposes allowing New York City to acquire 15 percent of the storage capacity at the Francis E. Walter Dam reservoir for its own use in the city.

In 2019, a number of rafting companies throughout Carbon spoke out about the $2.8 million study. New York City Department of Environmental Protection is contributing approximately $1 million for the completion of this study.

“(New York City is) heavily invested in studying the feasibility of acquiring ownership of Pennsylvania water, Nothstein said, noting that if New York acquires the 15 percent storage capacity, it would negatively impact all the communities along the Lehigh and Delaware rivers, which depend on the water for supplies during droughts, as well as recreational opportunities that drive local economies.

“This plan would jeopardize not only Delaware River stream flows, which are already stressed during periods of drought or near drought; it would also jeopardize the well-established and highly successful recreational flow releases that support the economic, vital recreation and economy around the Lehigh River.”

Nothstein said that the commissioners are scheduled to speak in the hearing at 9:35 a.m. and noted that several other organizations, including the Carbon and Lehigh Valley chambers, rafting companies and more are preparing statements to speak out against the study.

“We need to take a good, strong stance,” Nothstein said. “If they start taking our water, what’s next?”

He said that the study is expected to be completed in 2022 so “we need to make damn sure our voices are heard now.”

Commissioner Rocky Ahner agreed.

“I think Pennsylvania has been very responsible with managing its water,” he said.

“Why wasn’t New York responsible like that? And now all of a sudden they want to take our water. I don’t know if they know it, but water flows downhill not uphill.”

No further details regarding the upcoming hearing were available at this time, but representatives from the state House Republican Policy Committee said further information will be sent out in the near future.

In 2019, the former board of commissioners took a stance against the study, passing a resolution stating that the existing flow management for whitewater recreation and fishing opportunities should be maintained or improved at the dam and not sacrifice for other uses, such as reserving as much as 15% of the water in the reservoir for New York City.

In January 2020, hundreds of residents aired their concerns during a public meeting by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At that meeting, Paul Rush, deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, sought to explain why his agency is contributing toward the study.

“This is not about what’s best for New York City, it’s about what’s best for the Delaware River and people who depend on it,” Rush said.

Rush said New York is not interested in the reservoir for drinking water, and that the city’s water use has actually decreased over the past 40 years while its population has increased.

Rush said the city releases billions of gallons of drinking water from its reservoirs each year to help keep saltwater out of the Delaware River when the river’s flow decreases during periods of drought.

Rush said his agency believes that other reservoirs in the Delaware River Basin, like Francis E. Walter, could help with that purpose.

A hearing with the House Majority Policy Committee, at the request of state Rep. Doyle Heffley, was also held in September regarding the study.

The Francis E. Walter Dam reservoir serves communities along the Lehigh River. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO