Dam concerns addressed at public meeting

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KIDDER TOWNSHIP, CARBON COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)– Residents across the region had Thursday night marked on their calendars.

The hot button issue? Lehigh River water use and the Francis E. Walter Dam. It was a packed house at Mountain Laurel Resort. Pennsylvanians in panic about what is happening regarding a re-evaluation study of the Francis E. Walter Dam and what will happen to the water it holds.

The concern among many who attended Thursday night’s meeting? That water from the dam in Bear Creek Township, Luzerne County could be diverted to New York City. They’re worried it could threaten the lifeblood of the economy for many businesses who rely on tourism dollars.

The groups behind the study say that’s not what will happen. The study has been part of a larger-scale plan to re-evaluate flow needs from the southern tier in New York to Delaware.

“All the states came together through Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and worked on a drought management plan,” said the commission’s manager of water resource operations Amy Shallcross. “Our role in this is a forum for everyone to get together.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is helping to spearhead the three-year study that’s in its infancy as they operate dams within the basin.

“This study is all about looking at other options,” said spokesman Stephen Rochette. “Ways that we can enhance the operation of the dam and other improvements.”

The big concern for most is New York City’s involvement with the study.

“So to clarify for the last time, New York City is not interested in drinking water from the Lehigh River and from Francis E. Walter Reservoir,” said director of public affairs for New York City Water Supply Adam Bosch. “We’re not interested in controlling the operation of the reservoir. We’re not interested in buying storage at the reservoir.”

Bosch adds that they’re also not looking to hinder any tourism revenue for Pennsylvania. The city says it’s helping fund the study as a concerned partner of flow issues. Flow issues that all parties feel are tied into extreme weather trends.

“This isn’t just about Francis E. Walter,” said DRBC water resource scientist Anthony Preucil. “It’s about the entire basin and how we can adapt to climate change.”

There were roughly 1,000 in attendance Thursday night. The next meeting is in the fall.

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