Digital Exclusive: Lehigh River water, Francis E. Walter Dam worries

Digital Exclusive

BEAR CREEK TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)– Panic is starting to grip the region as there is some misconceptions about exactly what’s going on with a re-evaluation study at Francis E. Walter Dam.

“New York is not looking to anywhere else to replace their drinking water. We are looking at, collectively and from a business standpoint, how do we adjust,” Peter Eschbach of the Delaware River Basin Commission said.

The Delaware River Basin is more than 15,000 square miles in size, meaning waters from New York to Luzerne County and into the Schuylkill River ends up in the Delaware River, bay, and out into the Atlantic Ocean. However, the legal and organizational history means the regions tied to the basin have to work together.

“The Lehigh River is an important water source, certainly. But it is only one component of an overall system that’s very interconnected and dependent,” Eschbach said.

The long-time primary function of the Francis E. Walter Dam is flood management. It has since been re-evaluated for recreation. A recent look at a flexible flow management plan calls to evaluate alternative uses. The Army Corp of Engineers is asking area residents for their opinions.

“They’re announcing ‘hey, we’re going forward with a study to look at this and we’d like your input. What are the kind of thing you’d like to see?’,” Eschbach said.

This study is part of a larger picture with connected waterways that serve 20 percent of the nation’s population and more than 40 percent of Pennsylvanians. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who run a fair number of dams and reservoirs in the basin, say at this point, it’s just a study.

“The study is going to be approximately three years. We’re kind of just scoping out the details. We’re getting some of that initial public feedback. That’ll be part of the public meeting this week. We’re working with our sponsors and we’ll be working towards coming up with recommendations as the study moves forward. There’s a lot of analysis that gets involved. Economic analysis, environmental analysis and engineering analysis. All of that kind of works together around developing our recommendation,” Stephen Rochette, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman, said.

So while there are concerns mounting across the region, there are several state and federal organizations that are looking at the situation from the outside in.

“There’s no pre-determined outcome. We’ll go through the process objectively and use sound science. As we go through the overall process, we’re certainly going to account for the significant recreation programs and economy that is part of that. We fully understand the importance of that and have no plans to downsize that,” Rochette said.

Officials can’t stress enough New York City is not taking Lehigh River water. Organizations involved in this re-evaluation study understand that when you look this closely at something that is so crucial to an entire region, there are going to be concerns. If you do still have questions, there is that Thursday night meeting at the Mount Laurel Resort in White Haven.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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