Digital Exclusive: An Outside Look: Lehigh River, Francis E. Walter Dam Concerns

Digital Exclusive

BEAR CREEK TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)– Even after a public meeting Thursday night, officials involved in the re-evaluation study of Francis E. Walter Dam say there are misconceptions. Eyewitness News sought out a third party federal organization to dispel any rumors like ‘Lehigh River water possibly going to New York City.’

“We’re totally unaware of any plans,” said Northeast and Appalachain deputy regional director for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Daniel Hippe. “It would be super impractical and unpopular for, literally, a cross-basin diversion of any additional water.”

The USGS’ Northeast and Appalachian region contains the entirety of the Delaware River Basin and they have spent years working with the three organizations involved with the study.

“I think this is more into the wiring of the system and how upstate reservoirs could be operated to meet downriver objectives–not literally to have water moved around across the basin,” he added.

The legal history behind the states and organizations around the basin keeps them constantly re-evaluating and planning, together.

“We get together regularly,” said director of public affairs for New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection Adam Bosch. “I would say monthly, with the other basin states to plan for the future.”

New York City’s reservoirs may extend more than 100 miles past city limits already, but a large amount of the water that benefits the entire basin flow comes from them and that explains the city having so much skin in the game.

“To do those sorts of things we actually are releasing drinking water downstream. In the early ’90s the folks who operated the system, they would think this is absolutely nuts,” he added. “With the technology we have now to monitor the inflow and understand how much water is coming into the system, how much is able to be released–we’re able to do things now that we couldn’t have done back then. It really allows us to manage those reservoirs. For multiple objectives and multiple stakeholders rather than just saying this is for the water supply and nothing else.”

The Delaware River Basin Commission was formed in a time of drought but they have since played a guiding role for organizations within the basin to keep the more than 15-thousand square miles of waterways running smoothly.

“We think that there are ways to operate the reservoir, to still make releases for fisheries and to still have the same recreational releases but we could get some benefits for drought storage, dry weather flow and there are a lot of opportunities here,” said the commission’s manager of water resource operations Amy Shallcross. “Why not take a look? We’re taking a look. We’re not making a decision.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the prime financial contributor and is running the study.

“We’re really looking for win-win potential solutions for all stakeholders,” said spokeman Stephen Rochette. “There will be a number of different alternatives and recommendations that we’ll look at over the course of this study. We are just getting started at this point.”

All three organizations are looking for potential solutions and improvements for the entire basin.

“One thing we’ve said from the beginning is this needs to be an honest study that’s based on science,” said Bosch. “If the science shows it can’t be done, it can’t be done. That’s fine. If the science shows it can be done,then everyone should get together and figure out of that’s something we want to pursue.”

The USGS works regularly with these organizations on data collection and various studies.

“Since day one we have worked with New York D.E.P., the Corps of Engineers and with the DRBC,” said the Northeast and Appalachian regional director for the USGS Michael Tupper. “They have always been straight shooters.”

There are certainly concerns the region has as one of their life-bloods is directly under the microscope, but a full Mountain Laurel conference room this past week is applauded by the stakeholders and onlookers alike.

“Those are public processes,” said Tupper. “The public is invited and has the right to go look at the information as it’s being developed. The public gets an input into the study, itself.”

The USGS adds that this team effort over the past 50-plus years puts the region and this study in better hands than most.

“In some places like Georgia there’s big challenges with water rights and availability associated with the corps’ reservoirs,” Hippe added. “There’s parts of the country and a lot of the globe where there really, literally, isn’t enough water. It’s very litigious. There are winners and losers but there’s plenty of room for science and information to really retain this balancing act. We should be able to do the most good with the resources.”

the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will take written comment and suggestions on their website throughout the process, but encourage early submissions for the first phase of public input by January 29, 2020.

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